Prometheus was pretty controversial among Alien fans, so going into Alien Covenant we were wondering whether Ridley Scott could deliver another stellar film in the franchise, or whether we would once again be bitterly disappointed. That said, we were also wondering whether it was even necessary to find out what happened before the events of Alien. After all, some things are best left unsaid.
The first half of the film gave us hope that we were wrong to doubt Ridley Scott, but, unfortunately, it was downhill from there on in.
In the film we follow the titular Covenant, where the crew is awakened from cryogenic sleep while on their journey to find a new home and settle it with the help of a ship-full of colonists and human embryos. While busy repairing the ship in order to restart their voyage, the crew intercepts a mysterious signal from a planet not far from their position, and after doing some research, it turns out that it is a lush and abandoned world, much like Earth. Worth exploring, then, especially in order to understand the origins of the signal that they had intercepted. Oh, and it's important to mention that these people are not trained marines, but rather regular civilians.
The start of the film emulates the original Alien in many ways, and introduces us to all of the characters we'll be following throughout the movie, including the charismatic female character Daniels (Katherine Waterston). Although the connection between audience and both Daniels and Walter (Michael Fassbender) is central to Alien Covenant, that link is tragically weak, especially in the second half of the film, because it's hard to form a connection to either character.
There is another aspect that destabilises Alien Covenant, and that's its hybrid nature, combining, as it does, thematic aspects from both Blade Runner and Alien. However, this new film is severely lacking the strength and disposition that made both of those movies great. Split into exactly two parts (the dividing point being in what we'll call the "flute scene"), Alien Covenant tries to explore themes that Scott has touched upon in earlier films, one of which is the desire of man (even synthetic) to push beyond their boundaries and perceived capabilities. The dream to become a god and to create new life is one of the main themes that recurs in both Prometheus and Alien Covenant, but here it's treated with such banality and a lack of depth that it is almost comical.
On the other hand, what doesn't disappoint in Alien Covenant is the extraordinary cinematography. The majestic abandoned planet that opens up to us and the Covenant crew is both striking and exciting, with beautiful shots that savour all of the detail. Such a precise and highly-detailed visual finish is not enough, though, especially when everything that accompanies it isn't of the same high standard.
With Prometheus it was already quite obvious that Scott no longer had any interest in exploring the sci-fi horror genre, choosing instead to follow a more action-oriented direction, but apparently this decision doesn't prove to be as incisive or exciting as we would have hoped for. Confirmation of this comes via the high profile appearance of the same Giger-designed Xenomorphs that we've seen many times before. These alien beasties no longer have the same emotional impact and horrific presence as compared to the animatronics of previous works, all of which moves us further away from the (desired) feeling of restlessness that defined the early films.
Even though we are above the low bar set by Prometheus, Alien Covenant still doesn't match the original. Ridley Scott had in his hands a rich setting that he could have used to create a new masterpiece with, but that has been squandered and all we're left with is muddled and chaotic films that fail to take advantage of the strengths of the genre and the franchise. This is a real shame because it's evident that Scott still has good ideas worth exploring, but here they're completely lost in the second half of the film, replaced therein by some almost laughable scenes. Did we need Alien Covenant? Maybe, if only to show us where the next Alien film can and should go, or perhaps to make us question whether it should even be made at all.