By Scott Daniels
In the third act of the hotly, yet somewhat tentatively anticipated film in question, something remarkable happens. We witness a director brazenly turn on his established audience and pull a Kellyanne Conway … I suppose everything we think we knew about this universe were alternative facts.
Much like Australia’s former politician/poetic genius/celebrated poet Clive Palmer, director Ridley Scott seems to have trouble recalling rather important details of his life’s work. Now, I’m not saying the two are equally influential to modern culture — Lord knows, I’ll eat my hat when Scott publishes a sonnet on about tim-tams on Facebook which could win a Pulitzer, but they certainly have their parallels. If you’re looking for a continuation of the intriguing, if not migraine-inducing existential mystery that Prometheus attempted to set up, frustratingly, you will not find it here. If you’re looking for the logical precursor to where we end up in the Alien universe by the time the 1979 classic begins, again, you will not find it here. An increasing trend in Scott’s films post-Gladiator (with the glorious exception of 2015’s The Martian), the script seems to fall victim to knee-jerk decisions motivated and formulated by the studio think-tank discussions of Prometheus‘s baffled and confused critical and general response, on behalf of the writer(s) who frequently employ spectacle at the expense of, well, any kind of logic, coherency, believability, and most of all, continuity within the established universe.
One could place this on perhaps Ridley Scott himself — now in his late 70’s, it could be understood if the legend of cinema’s ability to helm a film of this scope is starting to ail. That is, until you watch the press interviews (if you are compelled to do so). Scott seems bored, confused, and flippant about discussing the film and it shows in the finished product, which is most unfortunate, and is perhaps the biggest insult to fans. Changes to character and story seem more motivated by back-pedalling out of the corner Prometheus forced the screen-writers into, and instead of committing to it, they literally wipe it from the map. I am not joking, there is a scene in the third act where this literally happens. Amazing.
According to the events presented here, we can basically dismiss all of those pesky previous films, their established rules, particularly in relation to the title character and its lifespan. Remember the gestation period as presented in the original series? Forget that. Remember the chestburster? Nope, forget that too. Variance is fine and to be expected, however when it’s employed for the sake of temporary plot convenience, and now creating an even larger dissonance between where this story ends up and Alien begins … it’s cheap, dirty, and feels like cheap manipulation. Audiences went into Prometheus and sat through it dazzled by the spectacle and themes, only having it fall apart after having exited the theatre … in Covenant, it’s instantaneous.
If you’re hoping to witness an expansion on Alien lore itself, consider this film to be the equivalent of watching Die Hard with the ever-present threat of your partner switching the channel to Sex In The City 2 every time something interesting happens. No joke, Covenant stumbles upon moments of brilliance, a particular moment involving David’s interaction with a Protomorph more or less creates the most fascinating moment in any Alien film for 30 years … and, due to horrendous character writing and baffling plot motivation and convenience, that scene gets ‘Murica’d. The genesis of the first actual Xenomorph in this world (mild spoiler alert — there is more than one) is treated quite flippantly, and dare I say quite disrespectfully. Remember how difficult it was to kill one Xenomorph in Alien? Remember how that was … kind of, you know, the whole point? Nope. Not here.
Thematically, it doesn’t hold up much better. The film opens up (admittedly quite brilliantly) with a newly “born” David realising his existential superiority over his creator, Peter Weyland. You will die, I will not. Simple, effective scriptwriting (and beautifully acted by Fassbender and a non-$2 Halloween masked Guy Pearce). Unfortunately, as the story plays out, this very intriguing idea is thrown aside for overt religious themes are so carelessly and pointlessly overblown to an embarrassing extent. How is it that a previous Ridley Scott film, Blade Runner, was able to more effectively and powerfully explore the relationship between androids and their creators with a piece of origami? Subtlety, and room for interpretation. Interpretation and discussion — isn’t that exactly what a theme should be?
Look, honestly, Exodus: Gods and Kings this ain’t — no waste disposal receptacles have laid assault charges on me thus far. Let’s get the obvious out of the way: it’s a Ridley Scott film, it’s going to look very pretty by default (even Scott’s ever increasingly wavering eye over his film’s overall quality hasn’t spread to … well … his eyes). The score definitely draws on the best of Alien and Prometheus, certain cues are employed in a thematically appropriate manner, and Michael Fassbender does his best with all of the hilariously bizarre material given to him. There’s no doubt about it — this series, wherever the hell it is going, is Fassbender’s.
And that’s pretty much it.
At this point, humanity has encountered the Xenomorph in some form or another four times before the events of Alien, and we’re still going. The mystery of the titular character and the universe around it is growing ever more redundant, and it’s almost impossible to think of where the story will go from here.
Unless it’s a planet full of Jeff Goldblums, I couldn’t care less.