To put it plainly: Alien: Covenant is crushed by the weight of its own self-importance. It’s strange to think that a franchise like Alien would find its demise seeking out the exact opposite of what attempted to accomplish at the outset. When Alien premiered nearly 40 years ago, it was lauded for being a simple concept, executed with precision: a haunted house in space. There is a crew on a spaceship and one by one they all get picked off by a stowaway alien. How did we end up here? Alien: Covenant is far more concerned with giving you a very on-the-nose Philosophy 101 lesson, that tries so hard to convince you it came right from the mouth of Dante. It trades scary aliens for god-complexes, a simple premise with unneeded backstory, and gore with philosophy. Those are all terrible trades.
Coming in on the back of Prometheus, the cinematic equivalent of undercooked chicken, Alien: Covenant attempts to right its wrongs. In the title alone, it promises one thing: aliens. Initially it seems to make good on its promise; the major flaw in Prometheus was that it was all philosophy and asking big questions and then choosing to not only not answer them but actually go out if its way to not answer them, teasing you at the end that the sequel will give you the answers you crave. Covenant brings you some alien creatures in the first act, and it’s disappointing to see the bar is so low, that all you have to do to impress the audience is give us a small taste of what we came to see.
Yes, the characters (who are supposedly the top scientists from Earth) are obscenely stupid and make awful decisions, but that’s how a horror movie works: we need the dumb decisions to lead us to the scary. If the characters were smart, they would kill and capture all of the aliens as soon as they landed, but that isn’t fun for us to watch; we want to see no-name characters get ripped apart in the most disgusting fashion over and over again, rinse and repeat. It’s not hard.
For a while the movie rolls along nicely enough. We get some good deaths, some good flesh ripping, some gross aliens, who can complain? Then the movie decides once it has you hooked, it’s going to make a hard turn. Covenantis like starting to eat a pizza and having it replaced with vegetables after two slices. Once it gets going, it decides it’s going to re-introduce David, the robot character that made no sense in Prometheus, and still really makes no sense now. Apparently, Ridley Scott read a few more philosophy texts since the last go around, since David seems to be drawing inspiration from different thinkers this time.
Now, once again, we need to sit through Ridley Scott musing about what it means to be alive and the mysterious possibilities of a divine being existing. Anything you may have been able to classify as interesting about Prometheusis thrown away in a quick flashback scene that feels very tacked on. “Oh didn’t we tell them David was going to the Engineers’ planet to find out why and how they created humans? Shit. Just add a scene where they all die.”
The central problem is that Scott keeps insisting he has something to say about life but decides to never tell us, leading us to believe that he probably doesn’t have anything to say at all and he’s just as confused as the rest of us. He’s the guy that has a “girlfriend that goes to a different school.” Oh? Can we see a picture of her? “No.”
After what feels like hours of philosophy 101, we are rewarded for being good students and get to end with an alien, in an extended sequence that really wasn’t worth the wait. We sat through Professor Scott’s class for two hours, show us some alien cinematics that we’ve never seen before. Scott quickly tries to cram an entire Alien’s-worth of thrills into the last 15 minutes so we can leave the theater being tricked into satisfaction, but there’s nothing in this sequence you haven’t seen already seen in another Alien movie.
In the end, Scott doesn’t realize that no one really ever cared about the alien’s backstory. It doesn’t matter where it came from! I just want to watch it rip people apart. If you want to make a movie that mopes around, wondering what life is all about, go ahead and make that movie, but there is no reason to try to squeeze it into an Alien movie. They just don’t go together. They can both be great but not together. You’re trying to mix a filet mignon with ice cream and while separately they’re great, no one wants them together. Don’t merge your trashy space-horror movie with a middling attempt at profundity.