Alien: Covenant is a bit of a Mulligan Stew. It takes elements from a number of other films in the franchise and rearranges them into a story that feels somewhat fresh yet still very much a part of the horror science-fiction franchise. And that’s a good thing for the first half of the film. Unfortunately, some of those elements are from the less successful installments and those wind up weighting down Covenant‘s second half.
The Covenant is a deep space colony ship, its crew and 2000 colonists in suspended animation for the years long trip to their new home. After an accident forces some of the crew awake, they intercept a message of human origin coming from an uncharted planet. Upon landing, the group discovers a world covered in lush vegetation but no no animal life. Further investigation reveals that the source of the transmission is a crashed Engineer spacecraft, the one which we saw the survivors of the last film, Prometheus, heading out to the stars in.
Unfortunately, some of the crew of the Covenant stepped on some fungi, which released spore that gestated into a form of the franchise’s iconic xenomorph when inhaled. Before the crew can continue their investigations, aliens are bursting out of various people’s backs and mouths leaving everyone else on the run for their lives. And up until this point, Scott is delivering a fairly solid, if familiar, Alien film. We have humans out among the star, isolated from any potential help stumbling across a siren song that lures them to a world where danger lurks. Scott gives us his always dependable beautiful and poetic vistas of deep space travel that counterpoint the horrors that lay hidden just beyond that beauty.
But then the film remembers that it has to be a sequel to Prometheus, and that’s where it goes off the rails. Just when it looks like the crew are about to be slaughtered by the aliens, they are rescued by David (Michael Fassbender), the surviving android crewmember of the Prometheus. And just like that, we’re sidetracked back to the tangled mess of unclear motivations that characterized much of the problems in Prometheus. This time around we have David plotting to do… something with the xenomorphs he is working to modify. And whatever it is, it certainly isn’t what he seemed intent on doing when we saw him at the end of the previous film. Scott’s problem lies in the fact that he doesn’t seem to have a clear idea as to backstory he wants to tell and that affects everything that plays out in the second half of the film. If he does have a clear idea and is intending to reveal over the next two Alien films he plans to direct, it makes for an incomplete and unsatisfying experience here.
Alien: Covenant almost redeems itself in a sequence where the surviving crew is racing to escape from David and the various xenomorphs that are still running about. The climax of this takes place in and outside of a cargo shuttle attempting to get clear of the planet and offers up some solid thrills. But once Scott gets the crew back to the Covenant and spends a little too long in getting the crew back into hypersleep and on their way to their destination, do you realize that not is all as it seems. It only takes a modicum of thought to figure out exactly what lies ahead, but the film still takes its time in getting to that reveal. Where the film really could have stuck the landing, it instead chose to limply flop over to the ground.