By Bernard Dayo
There’s a scene in Alien: Covenant that I must tell you about. Under sharp fluorescent lights, a male crew member from the colony ship Covenant shakes violently on a metal table. He’s been infected with an airborne alien spore cluster and it hijacks his system for its vicious, short-lived metamorphosis, then explodes its way out in spurts of blood through his back, splitting flesh with its razor-sharp, whip-like tail and sleekly falls to the floor in a thick drool of blood—a slimy, chittering, fast-moving neomorph that doesn’t need to adapt to its environment before it starts to kill.
And that’s the kind of tangible, spine-chilling terror that characterises Ridley Scott’s sequel to 2012’s Prometheus, his grand return as director in the Alien franchise. Alien: Covenant is preceded by a prologue: Peter Weyland, founder of Weyland Corporation, has just created a new synthetic android called David, who names himself after looking at a replica of Michelangelo’s statue of the same name. They are in a soundless, sterile-looking room, and David cloyingly sounds docile and automated, inserting “Father” in his sentences as he addresses Peter.
“If you created me, Father,” David starts to ask, “then who created you?”
Peter observes a pause before cryptically responding: “One day, we’ll find mankind’s creator together.”
Surprisingly, the first casualty of Alien: Covenant isn’t alien-induced. In 2104, a colony ship Covenant is heading towards a remote planet called Origae-6, carrying a cargo of 2000 colonists and a thousand embryos onboard. The crew members are sleeping blissfully in state of hyper-sleep, and Walter (Michael Fassbender), a brand-new synthetic android physically resembling the David model we had seen in the prologue, supervises the cruise of the ship. Everything, soon enough, goes awry when a neutrino hits the ship, which forces Walter to initiate a command that wakes the crew members. As they quickly pull themselves out from their pods, who would have thought that cheeky James Franco would get himself immolated in his own pod and turned into a crisp human barbecue?
Daniels, his wife, played by Katherine Waterston, mourns her husband only briefly, and participates in an alcohol-consumed, deep-space funeral where Franco’s body is bundled in white and ceremoniously ejected from the ship and into the dark abyss of space. Did I mention that Franco was the captain of the ship?
So Covenant is captainless, but not for long. Christopher (Billy Crudup) steps in as captain, a man of faith, the messiah who would navigate the ship to their intended idyllic destination. But he would also be the instigator of their doom—a bad decision that catastrophically lands some of the crew as dead-meat in the festering hive of aliens, ranging from the pesky, scurrying neomorphs to the goo-dripping xenomorph, the big biggie, whose cranium is horrifically exaggerated for effect and brings twice the terror.
In between the alien-orchestrated slaughtering spree is a shower sex scene that eases into the movie with a soft cushion. It comes as a relief, though, that people can still make love despite the stink of death that engulfs the ship. But that, too, is gleefully ruined. The xenomorph that Scott creates is a pervert, interrupting the shower scene and leaves the love-making participants in a tangled, blood-tainted showering pool of bodies. The kill is vicious. It’s a jarring, eye-popping moment. But it is inflected with a drawly background music that tempers the scene’s viciousness.
The best moments in Alien: Covenant are the scenes where David (who is Michael Fassbender) fights Walter (who is also Michael Fassbender but whose hand had been chopped off by an neomorph while saving Daniels). Daniels is, at this point, the movie’s heroine. Without stereotypically calling her “tough” or “headstrong” as insufferably done with female characters, she and Tennessee (Danny McBride) devise a quick plan to boot out the predatory xenomorph from Covenant otherwise they die. They succeed, at the end. The big-headed xenomorph is flung out into space and a balmy calm returns. Daniels gives Tennessee a small, nervous, celebratory smile; they are alive even though their ship is depleted. Disappointed with the movie’s unexpected anticlimax, Alien: Covenant falls flat with its character development, or lack thereof. I wanted to know the characters, their lives, but it had that depthless Gravity-like blandness.
On the whole, Alien: Covenant is forgivable. Its aliens are nasty and they have fun while slaughtering humankind. And it was a beauty to watch.
Watch the trailer: