I’m the weirdo that actually likes Prometheus. Sure, it has its share of flaws—most notably its over-reliance on characters’ stupidity in order to advance the plot—but to nitpick about every little blemish is to miss the forest for the trees. Ridley Scott was primarily concerned with the film’s Big Ideas, from contemplating mankind’s greater purpose in the universe to meditating on our obsession with seeking answers to inherently unanswerable questions; a handful of narrative contrivances does little to diminish his masterful exploration of these themes.
Alien: Covenant, on the other hand, has a few sturdy trees, but the forest is largely barren. When it makes an effort to build upon Prometheus’ groundwork, it excels. For example, David—Michael Fassbender’s rebellious android—makes his triumphant return, emerging as one of the franchise’s most compelling figures. With his “father" dead—slain by the very beings that engineered all life on Earth—David is free to pursue his own agenda: the creation of the perfect (that is to say, the most efficient and deadly) organism. Fassbender, always a charismatic performer, steals every scene, particularly when he shares the screen with himself as Walter, David’s stripped-down doppelgänger, whose less complex A.I. ironically makes him more compassionate.
Unlike its predecessor, however, Covenant rarely sets aside time for introspection, adhering instead to a rather generic “slasher” structure. Consequently, David’s mad quest to surpass both humanity and the Engineers and become a literal god is subservient to what is quite possibly the single most egregious Idiot Plot in recent memory. Look, when it comes to irrational behavior in horror movies, I tend to be pretty forgiving, but unlike Prometheus’ ensemble of adrenaline junkies and blue collar schlubs (who are ultimately expendable pawns in Peter Weyland’s personal mission to achieve immortality), Covenant’s crew is responsible for the safety of 2,000 cryogenically frozen space colonists; their tendency to panic at the slightest provocation simply strains credulity.
Even worse, Covenant features the most upsettingly unearned Downer Ending since Drag Me to Hell; apparently, Scott has forgotten that no audience wants to see Ripley beheaded after she’s so narrowly managed to claw her way out of Hell. Indeed, it seems the esteemed director has forgotten a lot of important things: how to build suspense, how to stage creative kills, how to make us care about more than three characters at once. In the end, Covenant is neither substantive enough to be a worthy successor to Prometheus nor terrifying enough to be considered a return to the classic Alien formula. It offers a few fleeting pleasures… which only makes it harder to admit that, taken as a whole, it’s a pretty huge waste of time.
[Originally written May 20, 2017.]