No Ripley, More Cry
By Jason Wiese
It is with a heavy heart I admit that I believe that Ridley Scott may have lost his touch as a director, but not necessarily as a creator. I imagine if you could convert his mind to film, it could be a bigger ticket seller than anything James Cameron could come up with. Yet, at this point in Scott’s career, within that dazzling slide show of euphoric visuals and brainteasing concepts, there is something missing: balance.
Take Prometheus, for example: Scott’s 2012 sci-fi epic was rich in imagination and breathtaking aesthetic, but it suffered from rough storytelling and underdeveloped characters. The only reason anyone ever talks about that film anymore is due to the surprise reveal that it was written as a prequel to Alien. Now, Scott has returned to that world with a direct follow-up that continues to pull away another layer of the mystery surrounding the Xenomorph’s origin, yet with less imagination and even less balance.
Alien: Covenant gets its name from a ship carrying a horde of Earthlings immigrating to an unknown world in the far corners of outer space. After a tragic event, Oram (Billy Crudup, or Dr. Manhattan for comic book fans) reluctantly takes over as captain of a crew made permanently glum by said tragic event. Surprisingly, I could count on one hand the number of truly compelling characters. Yet, the most compelling would have to be Michael Fassbender, whose role is much grander than in his first entry to this franchise. But the most surprising performance comes from Danny McBride who officially departs from his Eastbound and Down counterpart Kenny Powers to put on an impressively consistent dramatic performance in the film. It is enough to make you visualize him in the next Tarantino movie. Unfortunately, Katherine Waterston makes a weak attempt at being the Ellen Ripley (the heroine of the first four films of the franchise played by Sigourney Weaver) for a new generation.
Things turn worse than they already were to begin with when they find a planet they believe could be a new home and a successful end to their mission. But it would not be an Alien movie without a cast of very unsatisfied people. I turned out to be one of them.
Other than a few genuinely unnerving moments, the bulk of the film feels mostly for show because the stakes they raise are quickly diminished by plot points that only kill the motor before it hits maximum speed. Even the return of the original Xenomorph is too brief and thoroughly wasted. The blood flies in an all-to-familiar pattern. It is enough to convince you that there can be too much of a good thing, that thing being the franchise as a whole.
So, Scott may have lost his touch, as I believe it, but as a creator, eager to refresh and expand the franchise he pioneered, he excels. Like Prometheus, Covenant introduces startling revelations and thought-provoking concepts surrounding the Alien mythology that no one would have thought to consider before. What it lacks is the balance necessary to successfully expand the story without stifling the experience. I was unable to get lost in the action, sympathize with characters, or even appreciate the return of the Xenomorph. It all feels like a desperate attempt to tell a different story despite being seduced by the smell of money. However, there is a second theory: this may be exactly the Alien movie he wanted to make. If so, I congratulate him and will support anyone who agrees. But this was not the Alien movie that I wanted to see.