Alien: Covenant‘s Big, Non-Existent Twist

Overall, I liked Alien: Covenant a lot. It’s scary. It’s violent. It looks fantastic. It moves forward with the thematic concerns of Prometheus, a film which still manages to absolutely floor me, and it delivers on what is expected from a sci-fi blockbuster as well. Ridley Scott shows more energy and verve at 79 than many filmmakers can muster up in their whole career, and he only seems to be getting stronger. In addition, Scott has become such a financially successful name that he can basically work on his own terms. The last two entries in the Alien franchise are proof.

Andy correctly commended the franchise’s consistent bucking of audience expectations in his review, and Alien: Covenant feels a bit like the filmmakers were attempting to have their cake and eat it too in that regard. What I mean is that Prometheus was heavily criticized for being wishy-washy about whether or not it wanted to be a proper Alien movie or not. Covenant, more directly a sequel to Prometheus than anything else, has a lot of classic Alien imagery jammed into it, and it feels more like fan service than organic storytelling. Trying to mash these two styles into one movie has an effect on the pacing, and while I did enjoy the movie, I found it inferior to its predecessor.

You see that? That’s what a criticism looks like. I isolated issues I had with a movie and put it to words. No, I’m not trying to toot my own horn (I’ll leave that to David and Walter), but I am trying to make a statement about the biggest criticism I’ve seen with Alien: Covenant that is not only complete BS, it’s also indicative of a fundamental misunderstanding of storytelling.

It seems that along with each broad proclamation of “Alien: Covenant is ripe garbage” comes the follow up criticism of “the twist was predictable.”

Um. What twist?

SPOILER ALERT.

The non-twist people are referring to is the very last moment of the film, when the synthetic human reveals himself to be the villainous David rather than the selfless Walter, much to the dismay (and inevitable destruction) of our surviving leads.

Slightly earlier in the film, Walter and David get into a pretty brutal fistfight, the ending of which is kept offscreen. Only one of these identical cyborgs emerges from the battle, and even though he declares himself to be Walter, Covenant is very careful to keep it ambiguous, and to sow seeds of doubt in the brain of any viewer who has one. For about 20 minutes or so, if that, we are left wondering which robot we’re seeing, and therefore what his motivations are – whether or not he can be trusted to protect his human companions rather than act out of self-interest. It creates the very tension that would be missing if it were indeed a twist, and we were being fed lies instead of ambiguities.

Fassbender’s movie-stealing performance hits a high point during these final sequences, as he plays the Walter-presenting David with an ambiguity that would not betray the characterization of either robot. His behavior is fitting to both Walter and David, and would be consistent to whichever android he turned out to be without further explanation. For much of this time I even wondered if the movie would come out and say it at all, instead leaving his identity unconfirmed when credits roll, but ultimately I am glad that an answer was provided, and sequel-baiting remained a bit under the table.

This plot development was not a twist, much the same way that killing Jaws was not a twist. The same way that Robocop winning or Rocky losing was not a twist. I’ve gone over this before. A twist is a revelation which forces the viewer to re-contextualize the events of the story. This was merely the confirmation of one out of two options, both of which even the most passive viewer would have been considering had they been awake. The Walter/David reveal is not even presented as a twist. I don’t know where people are getting the idea from. Even the way it is revealed is designed with the audience’s doubt in mind. David locking Daniels into her cryosleep pod is a form of dramatic irony. We feel apprehension, while Daniels does not. It’s when we see her revelation as to David’s identity that our doubts are confirmed and a classic horror movie ending occurs.

If this were a twist (it’s not) and we were going to re-contextualize anything at all (and we aren’t, because we were paying attention the first time around) it’s maybe the preceding 20 minutes of film.

My point is, if you’re going to criticize a movie (Alien: Covenant is total F-ing garbage, said one acquaintance before decrying the evils of the non-existent twist and nothing else) at least come up with a valid reason. Do better. You don’t have to like the movie at all. It can even come down to a simple “”I just didn’t enjoy it.” Otherwise you’re just trying to outsmart a movie rather than watch it. I assure you, there is nothing to outsmart in Alien: Covenant. It’s not pulling any tricks on you, and the fact that you think it is says to me that you’ve been outsmarted … by an admittedly dumb movie.

Author: Dan Scully

Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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