With the exception of a lazy, inferior rehashing of the heroes tracking the titular creature through motion trackers as the film builds to its climax, Alien: Covenant seems to perform best when aping the original Alien. The still, slightly eerie tour through the spaceship at the beginning; the characters’ pass through a colossal plaza square full of dead creatures that provoke a wonder akin to the space jockey decades ago (before the former is quickly and explicitly detailed in a pointless flashback); the tense, appropriately gruesome chestburster scenes (I’ll stick with the original description to avoid spoiling the exit points of the aliens in Covenant); and a fantastically moody scene in which the heroes come by terrain that has been dug up and flattened by something…something obviously quite massive. And there are no birds singing, as one character duly notes. Very moody. Very Alien.
But this ends up being Covenant’s biggest problem: it has very little identity to call its own. When it’s not being a lesser impersonation of the original masterpiece, it’s a by the numbers horror film with a huge budget. Even ignoring the inanity of landing on a mystery planet and not taking precautions such as wearing space suits, characters wander off by themselves with inevitable consequences, the ship’s new captain sticks his head inside an egg and seems shocked when it comes with inevitable consequences. Two attractive people have a hot, steamy shower as the alien creeps up on them with, yeah, inevitable consequences. Every jump scare and action set-piece is telegraphed miles in advance. It’s predictable horror filmmaking with all the tropes you’d come to expect.
The most interesting story thread lies in Fassbender’s character(s) and their philosophical tête-à-têtes regarding their freedom of choice, their freedom to create (‘You have symphonies in you, brother!’ is one of the few genuine highlights in a perfunctory script), and the possible irrelevance of humankind who David deems as defunct. But even this reaches a breaking point and David quickly devolves into the classic mad scientist type, minus the twirly moustache
There are certainly moments in Alien: Covenant hinting at a director with – even at the ripe old age of 79 – symphonies still in him somewhere. But they are brief instances in an otherwise bland science fiction horror. (5)