Alien: Covenant has some mighty big shoes to fill considering the cultural significance of Ridley Scott's original 1979 film. Alien didn't just set the precedent for suspenseful horror; it made waves with its ass-kicking, fiercely unapologetic female heroine, Ripley.
A veritable feminist icon, Scott was praised for his creation of such a character that transcended norms of not only Alien's genre but its very era. Almost 40 years later, it's a sad reality that few films' female characters manage to meet the bar established by Scott all those years ago.
As Scott turned his focus from Ripley's story to an Alien prequel franchise, he again applied the same formula to Prometheus. Not only did we see yet another capable and determined female protagonist in Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw, but Charlize Theron's performance as Meredith Vickers proved that strong women don't always have to be the good guys.
So how did #AlienCovenant fare? Did it manage to score the same feminist approval rating as the original, or was it yet another horror movie plagued with problematic representations of women? Let's break it down.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for Alien: Covenant
Is Daniels The New Ripley?
Given her legacy, comparisons between Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley and Katherine Waterson's Daniels Branson were inevitable. But how does Daniels compare to the great Ripley?
Our first introduction to Daniels is intense. Unexpectedly awoken from stasis, she watches as her husband is burned alive in front of her (an oddly common motif in the #Alien franchise). This throws her into a state of shocked grief, and she spends a large majority of her time floating around the ship in a teary-eyed daze.
Despite what you might think, this is a far cry from the weak, helpless woman audiences are so accustomed to seeing on screen. Yes, she's just had her main form of male support taken from her, but her emotional state is completely understandable; in fact, to show her soldiering on unaffected would make even less sense. It's a realistic depiction of a human being in grief, not some robotic action hero devoid of emotion. In fact, her strong words during her private conversation with new captain Oram soon after give the audience a hint of her strong-mindedness.
But how does she fare when the true nature of their newfound planet is revealed? She may still be raw from her recent loss, but when it comes to surviving this new alien threat, Daniels shows up ready and raring. Undeniably the reluctant hero, she comes into her true power to defeat that which threatens to destroy her.
Not only is she a capable fighter, but she takes initiative. Her quick thinking allows her and her fellow crew members to defeat the alien aboard their ship; a situation she takes full control of. She might not be Ripley 2.0, but Daniels certainly follows the same formula laid out by the original Alien, continuing that winning streak after Prometheus' Shaw.
Analyzing The Supporting Female Cast
Of course, Daniels isn't the only woman among her crew. She's joined by four other women, three of whom also travel to the surface of the alien planet. Unfortunately, things don't pan out so well for them.
This is where the gendered horror movie clichés begin. After Ledward begins to show signs of being seriously unwell, Karine helps him back to the ship. Faris, their pilot, is horrified, attempting to follow quarantine procedure as best she can.
What happens after that is a bit of an occupational health and safety blunder. As Karine remains oblivious to the very real threat of contamination from Ledward, Faris descends into the delightful fictional condition known as "female hysteria." As the situation worsens, both women are shown to be desperate to get help from their respective husbands (Oram and Tennessee).
Granted, as a biologist and a pilot, neither of these women's job descriptions entail handling a highly contagious pathogen situation. Nevertheless, you'd think that a crew responsible for such an important mission would receive some sort of training to prepare themselves for the risks of space. Not to mention their complete inability to remain calm in a stressful situation.
In a further act of sheer stupidity, Faris attempts to kill the newborn Neomorph by shooting it, but proves she's incapable of operating a gun and shoots everything except the alien — including gas tanks that blow up the entire ship.
Later on, female soldier Rosenthal is decapitated by a grown Neomorph. Top tip: if you're being hunted by an alien, it's probably not a great idea to wander off alone just to splash a bit of water on your face. And then we have Upworth, who dies a dignified death in the shower — but not before flashing a cheeky nipple. This is a classic horror movie cliché: If you get naked, expect to die a horrific death.
In a way, Alien: Covenant highlights the strength of its strong, female protagonist by positioning her against a backdrop of weaker, irrational women. This method of comparing women to each other in order to make one look and feel superior is a common and downright toxic habit not only in film, but in society in general.
Is It All Relative?
There's no denying that the women of Alien: Covenant aren't nearly as capable as Daniels. But is this recurring issue unique to one gender only?
Many of the crew members exercise some level of stupidity that eventually leads to their deaths— don't forget that both Hallett and Oram suffered terrible fates simply because they wanted to get a closer look at all the new (and potentially dangerous) alien stuff they'd just stumbled upon. Not to mention Faris wasn't the only one losing her shit when she realized a hungry alien was after her.
Yes, the behavior of some of the female characters certainly elicits some serious eye-rolling. But the exact same foolishness is shown across the board for all characters, regardless of gender.
Let's be honest: in Alien, almost everyone is a victim. That's what makes the actual alien so terrifying: its ability to kill with precision and without discrimination. It's a unique way of looking at gender equality, but it's a method that still puts Alien miles ahead of other movies in its genre.
What did you think about the portrayal of women in Alien: Covenant?