I’m obsessed with space and all things science that I don’t understand. Ever since I was a young girl, space fascinated me and still does to this day. I devoured nearly every story I could get a hold of if it was even remotely connected to outer space. As such, there are a few franchises I’ve been in love with all my life, such as the Alien movies, a sci-fi series featuring alien creatures called Aliens eating their way out of people’s chests. The series is also supposed to be horror, my least favorite genre, but despite that, something about them makes me love all of them, even the bad ones. Well, almost all of them.
I think the first Alien movie that I actively hated was 2012’s Prometheus. Prometheus is the first movie in the prequel series, followed by this year’s Alien: Covenant, and well, Covenant is also really bad. It’s got all of the shitty pretentiousness of Prometheus, in that it thinks it’s being deep and meaningful when it’s really just being stupid, not to mention that its plot is also completely driven by illogical decisions on the part of the characters. But unlike Prometheus, it actually features Aliens, which means I adore it.
Spoilers below and a trigger warning for sexual violence.
Alien: Covenant is a clusterfuck of a movie that not only ruins itself but somehow makes Prometheus even worse than it already was. Prometheus followed the character Elizabeth Shaw and the android David, and we last see them heading to the Engineer’s homeworld to find out… something. I’m not going to lie, I watched Prometheus seven times and I still don’t know what was happening. Covenant follows entirely new characters ten years later and Elizabeth has almost nothing to do with the story, so while watching Covenant I found myself questioning what Prometheus’s point even was all over again. Our main character this time around is Janet Daniels, a crew member on a colony mission. When her ship receives a transmission playing “Country Road” from an unknown alien planet that’s more suited for the colonists than their previous destination, they decide to check it out. Daniels, as well as nine other crew members, plus an Android named Walter who has the same Michel Fassbender design as David, head to the planet where shit gets real. Two members breath in spores that infect them with chest-popping albino Aliens and by the time David shows up out of nowhere (because hey, this just happens to be the Engineer’s homeworld), five of our crew members are dead.
From here the movie drives straight into even more bad decisions that result in people dying, pretentiousness, David being evil and creepy, fucking flute lessons of all things, and hey, I really hope at one point David’s not going to kill and impersonate his robot twin Walter because that would be such an unexpected twist I never would have seen coming. After our survivors manage to return to their ship, kill the last Alien, and go back into stasis to continue their original journey, we learn that David killed and impersonated Walter so he can continue experimenting on people and creating more Aliens. #shocked.
Yeah, this movie is a clusterfuck of bad but also so, so entertaining. I’m not even sure where to start with deconstructing this movie, because there are just so many things wrong with it. I’m quite certain that what brings this movie down for me the most, though, is David and how he fits into everything. To start, the original Alien movies implied that the Aliens were just dangerous creatures human beings were unlucky enough to come across. Part of what made them scary was the unknown—we don’t know a lot about space, so of course there could be chest popping aliens out there. This was also implied in the first Alien vs Predator movie. The Aliens were just a random species that evolved the same way everything else did. Covenant, however, tells us that Aliens were made through genetic experimentation. David, despite being artificially created by humans, views humans as a dying species and wishes to replace us with a more perfect race. In order to care about this, we have to care about David, a robot who spends his days quoting classic literature and writing music, and I just… I can’t. I can’t care about David. Covenant tries so hard to make him deep and meaningful, to explain his actions, but in the process, it just makes him boring. In an Alien movie, I don’t want long-winded conversations about the meaning of life and creation. Messages are fine and all, but when the plot literally pauses to pound it into my head, we’re going to have problems.
Unfortunately for me, David takes over the lead role of the movie. One of the things that I’ve always loved about this franchise is that the lead is always a woman. The original movies had Ripley, Prometheus had Elizabeth, AVP had Alexa, and Covenant has Janet. But in Covenant, Janet takes a second seat to David—the prequels are more concerned about him than it is fleshing out its protagonists. It’s bad enough that these prequels cut AVP out of canon, when Alexa is our only protagonist of color, but they also strip its other protagonists of their agency. There is something explicitly horrifying about being forced to carry a life form to term inside your body when that life form is going to kill you. The Alien movies feature women overcoming that. I don’t think the movies originally set out to talk about women’s rights and abortion, but the parallels are there—Prometheus even featured an abortion scene. This is a dangerous reality that people with a uterus in the real world are forced to deal with all the time, so when you have a movie explicitly about this kind of thing, the narrative needs to take care with its characters. Yes, the Aliens kill people of all genders and body types equally, but until the prequels, none of them were about a rapist robot obsessing over the protagonists and trying to impregnate them as a sign of “love”.
Elizabeth hardly features in Covenant because David killed her and used her body as an experiment. She survived Prometheus just to become an incubator and all we see of her in person is her mutilated body lying in David’s lab. To top that all off, David’s drawn creepy pictures of her, which Janet finds, and when she questions what he did to her, David says, “The same thing I’m going to do to you.” Then he forces Janet to kiss him. Walter thankfully saves Janet, but when David wins their fight and impersonates Walter, he gets the last laugh in the end. David ends up in a position of power over Janet and all the colonists so he can continue his experiments. It’s like the prequels forgot that these movies are supposed to be about Aliens and the people who overcome them, and instead David is the main character.
All of that would be bad on its own, but the movie also makes a comparison between the Aliens and Christianity. The captain of our dying humans this time around is Oram, who’s a man of faith, and he makes some incredibly stupid choices—Oram discovers David’s villainy after he manages to kill the last prototype Alien, and despite having a gun pointed at David and being able to end the conflict right there, he follows David to an egg sack and gets infected. Right before he dies, he has a short conversation with David about faith. Oram asks David what he believes in and David responds, “creation.” Then, what’s supposed to be the first perfected Alien, i.e. the ones we are used to, bursts from Oram’s chest while hopeful music plays and makes a crucifixion pose, because having a Jesus reference here is totally deep and meaningful. In this instance, David—who I just remembered is literally named after the statue of David—stands in for God making a species in an image that is pleasing to him. And he believes that the Aliens are going to fulfill his vision for the universe.
As a pro-life Christian, this is something that should offend me to no end, but instead I’m just amused by it. I mean, I guess I could say that the movie is calling out us pro-life Christians for all the people we’ve gotten killed, which is certainly a good conversation to have, but considering how Covenant strips its women of their agency, this seems more like a mistake than anything else.
It also wasn’t until the third time through this movie that I realized there’s a gay couple among all our humans. Part of me actually thinks this was done well. Since our characters are on a colony mission, it makes sense that most of them are just civilian couples with basic military training. Our gay characters are also not queer-coded through overt and offensive stereotyping. We learn of their relationship purely through their interactions, shots of a wedding ring, and genuine mourning for each other when one dies. Since the movie doesn’t call attention to them, it avoids turning them into tokens. Unfortunately, the movie also feels the need to pound into our heads who all the heterosexual couples are, so its choice to not explicitly state these two men are queer is a little questioning. Then there’s the fact that they both die, because David forbid we have gay characters unless we bury them. I mean, yeah, this is an Alien movie, and almost everyone dies, but that’s still not an excuse. Like, once again 100% of the gay characters are gone. I have yet to find a story where 100% of the straight characters die. Besides that, good representation is also cut down due to David’s creepy behavior and his trying to murder Walter after forcing a kiss on him too.
So yeah, like I said, this movie is just a clusterfuck of bad choices all coming together to form an entertaining masterpiece of awful. I love this movie so much. I love seeing the characters freak out. I love when Walter punches David. I love when Janet blows an Alien fucker into space, just like Ripley did in the first, second, and fourth movies, because why do anything new? I love that unlike Prometheus, Covenant actually has Aliens. And I love the hilarity of its accidental pro-life = death message.
While Covenant has some odd editing choices, it also makes really good use of its scenery and visuals, and that also helps save it. But what really saves this movie from being completely unwatchable is that, despite its flaws, it’s entertaining. Covenant is not the best Alien movie out there, but it’s certainly an improvement from Prometheus, and considering that they’ve got potentially six more of these movies planned, I can only hope they continue to improve. I highly doubt Janet will be alive next movie. She’ll probably meet Elizabeth’s fate, and I worry the prequels are just planning on recycling their female characters. So what I really hope for in the next installment is a woman of color as the protagonist, now that Alexa’s not canon anymore, and I want her to kill David. That’s all I ask, future Alien movie. You can keep having your murder Alien Jesus, but just fucking kill David.