Why I Love Alien Covenant
"David, I met the devil when I was a child, and I've never forgotten. So, David, you're gonna tell me exactly what's going on... or I am going to seriously fuck up your perfect composure."
You all know that I adore Prometheus. I have written about why I love it so much on this very blog. In that piece I expressed some disappointment at the fact that Elizabeth Shaw was not carried over to the sequel. This remains a disappointment, as I loved Shaw as a character. This does not mean however that I don't love Covenant which remains a smart, incredibly effective Horror Science Fiction movie. Like Prometheus and Alien before it, Covenant has a strong and beautiful female lead, played by Katherine Waterston. When I watched it for a second time, it hit me how appropriate it was that Elizabeth Shaw died at the hands of David, although I would have liked a cameo of some sort. Waterston playing Danny though more than makes up for the lack of Elizabeth Shaw, I must admit. She is immensely likable and someone who you would go through hell with. Also a big shout out to Billy Crudup and the wonderful comedic mind of Danny McBride. And of course the sublime Michael Fassbender, playing two roles here.
Covenant is a sequel to Prometheus. It follows up on the story in that movie brilliantly and builds on the themes and ideas that marked Prometheus as one of the smartest, most effective Science Fiction Horror movies of recent times. Shout out to Peter Bell who wrote a wonderful essay on why Prometheus and Covenant are full of interesting ideas. I will do my best here to live up to his standard. Covenant explores the greatest mystery of all: why are we here? Like Prometheus before it, Covenant takes a wonderfully complex philosophical area and marries it with superb body horror and jaw droppingly gorgeous Science Fiction. The inversion of the chest bursting scene is something really special. Covenant sees David become a God himself, rejecting the idea that replicants or synthetics can't have creative urges. In becoming a God, David shows us exactly why it was that the Engineers gave up on humanity. Gods can be capricious and vindictive to those they create, blaming the created for the failings of their creators. I found so much to adore in Covenant, but this story was my favourite.
Covenant is a supremely dark film, with one of the bleakest, most terrifying endings to be found in any big budget movie. It is the mirror image of the Gene Rodenberry-esque ending of Prometheus, with a cynical and disturbing conclusion. The twist is obvious but the way it's played out is what marks it as a VERY SPECIAL THING. By creating new life where there was no life, David becomes the thing he despises. He has been twisted by the lack of love and understanding of his creators, into something grotesque. David always had this capacity in Prometheus but it isn't until Covenant that he completes his transformation into some kind of monster. It is a beautiful thing that David is the one who created the iconic Xenomorph, and their equally cold and calculating behaviour can be traced directly to their creator.
I was very happy to see the themes and ideas in Prometheus and Covenant followed up in a very meaningful way in Blade Runner 2049. I will save my thoughts for the soon to be completed Why I Love Blade Runner 2049, but sufficed to say, I thought it was one of the most incredible, wonderful, beautiful and moving movies I have ever seen. It is interesting to think of how Ridley Scott has re-entered the elite of Science Fiction after such a long time away. With Prometheus, Covenant and Blade Runner 2049, Scott has cemented his reputation as perhaps the greatest Science Fiction director of all time. Kubrick and Lucas, beware, Ridley's coming for that crown!
Covenant might just be better than Prometheus, and I am torn as to which I prefer. It doesn't have the same problems with dialogue that marred a couple of key scenes in its predecessor, and it is arguably a more consistently tense and scary film, with some absolutely stunning moments of violence and gore. Without Prometheus though, Covenant just wouldn't work. Everything it does well is something that Prometheus laid the groundwork for. Thank the completely unfairly maligned Damon Lindelof - the showrunner for the great TV show Lost - for introducing the themes of Blade Runner into this new series of Alien related movies. Covenant pushes the ideas along so well that you often forget you are watching a new movie, so sure is the creative footing that it seems like it's coming from some cinematic Golden Age. There is so much here that could have been in Alien and the original Blade Runner, but not in a way that merely echoes those great movies, but finds a new road that is as fresh and exciting as it is familiar and part of a grand mythology dating back to 1979.
A few words on the cast. They are just as down to earth and appealing as the original Alien cast. Katherine Waterston is incredible, and follows the amazing, strong and capable women of the series, from Sigourney Weaver to Noomi Rapace. Waterston is just as brilliant and electric as these stellar actors, and damn beautiful to boot. (I'd just as quickly complement a man for his looks FYI.) You just want to give her a hug and then ask her to give you lessons in killing aliens. Danny McBride, good God! I couldn't believe my luck when I saw he was in this movie. He is one of the funniest, surprisingly subtle actors working today. Have you guys seen Eastbound and Down? BECAUSE YOU SHOULD. One of the greatest comedies of the last decade. Anyone doubting McBride's ability to act subtle, should check him out in some of Eastbound and Down's emotional moments. He is just as good here, recalling the late and great Harry Dean Stanton in the original Alien, as a rough and ready and immensely likeable character. Billy Crudup plays the man of faith, and it is appropriate that he comes to one of the most horrific ends of the movie, given his unshakable belief in the rightness of his actions. Michael Fassbender is the standout again, just as he was in Prometheus, playing two very different roles and never once letting on that he isn't a synthetic.
Alien Covenant received mixed reviews - I mean mixed here, not bad - and it is like Prometheus before it, a movie that tends to provoke strong reactions, one way or the other. I am proud to count myself as someone who loves both of these movies with an open heart, and without any serious reservations. I find so much beauty here and I am continually inspired by the stories that are told. They are savagely good Horror movies, and with the kind of BIG IDEA Science Fiction that will make you cry tears of delicious joy. Their ability to move and to terrify put them up there with my favourite films of all time. I will always speak out on the things I love, and this blog is a paean to positivity. Fuck cynicism and fuck those who think that by hating every goddamn thing that comes out, that they are somehow above those of us who want to love something. Covenant will hopefully get a sequel, but if it doesn't, it leaves the story in a good place. I hope to see more from Ridley and the great team behind these movies, but if I don't I understand, and I am grateful.