Alien: Covenant (2017) Review

Alien Covenant 4/5 | Sean Maher

Covenant is an occasionally delightful blood-splattering affair. One that is brilliantly staged, full of surprises and sometimes flawed”

Alien: Covenant is the second film in the Alien prequel series and the sixth installment in the Alien franchise. It is set 10 years after the events of Prometheus and serves as a direct sequel to it. The story begins with an accident on board the Covenant, a colony ship carrying 1000 still-sleeping colonists and a reserve of frozen embryos that are heading for a paradise planet. Most of the crew on board the Covenant awaken from hyper-sleep unscathed, except for the Captain Jacob Branson (played in a flashback, randomly, by James Franco). Walter (Michael Fassbender) is also on board, he is a newer generation of David from Prometheus, an android that is more imperfect and stripped of emotions and personality.

The remaining group begins carrying out essential repairs on the ship when they intercept a rogue signal coming from a nearby planet. Whilst they want to continue with the mission at hand, none of them want to go back into hyper-sleep – I don’t blame them! They decide to go and investigate the rogue signal, kickstarting a series of tremendously stupid decisions that have devestating consequences – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Once they arrive on the planet the xenomorphs welcome them with open arms, they all sit around the campfire toasting marshmallows and make inter-terrestrial love – the proper way. Just kidding! They become trapped in a tropical death trap, stalked in the corn fields by creatures that want to eat, rape, and impregnate them.

The xenomorphs use the tall overgrown grass as a cover to surround and trap the crew and its one of the most wonderfully staged scenes. Just when the xenomorphs are about to move in for the killer hug David (from Prometheus) lights up the sky with a flare and quickly takes the survivors to an old ruin. Here Fassbender is given a number of scenes to act off against himself and I’m not going to disagree with this decision – he’s brilliant! After all, two Fassbender’s are better than one. David’s ruin is dark and bleak, a place once filled with life but now littered with human remains. The evocations of destruction and creation well and truly set Covenant up as something decidedly different to all previous installments. Although all of the beats look and sound the same, it’s refreshing to see Ridley bring some different variations to Alien folklore, whilst still hitting the same frightening notes in the process. The unflinchingly bloody and chest pumping xenomorph scenes well and truly earn Covenant its R-rating, and they’re scattershot just enough throughout the film to appease fans of Scott’s original masterpiece.

“Like the monster that inspired it, the Alien series is perfect by design precisely because it is adaptable “

When I first read some of the complaints about Covenant not being an “Alien” film, I thought about it and decided to revisit some of the earlier entries.  I did and I couldn’t disagree more. Apart from strong female leads, a promise of extraterrestrial rape and an exploration of deep space, there isn’t a strict schematic that you have to adhere to if you’re directing an Alien film. Like the monster that inspired it, the Alien series is perfect by design precisely because it is adaptable, and it has continued to evolve over the years to reflect on the shifting trends in popular taste. Alien: Covenant isn’t a great film, it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be better than Prometheus, and I can assure you that it is.

Most of the criticism aimed at Covenant is concerned with how Ridley has somehow lost his way, some have even suggested that he is even out of touch with the Alien franchise. Covenant though is a courageous film from a ballsy filmmaker and Ridley goes beyond straightforward scares here – way beyond. He questions the very nature of human existence. It’s rare for a commercial film to be given the freedom to express big existentialist ideas and once again Ridley is going against the grain. Much of the credit has to go to Michael Fassbender who rises to the challenge and executes most of Scott’s ideas. The xenomorphs are dealt with like an irritating afterthought, at least temporarily, only to emerge in horrifying fashion when they come bursting (quite literally) onto our screens. Ridley is not simply an artist trying to repaint an old picture, only this time with slightly better brushes. He is bravely laying the groundwork for something much more radical, unearthing a much deeper fear that is closer to home than a million miles away. Prometheus previously left too many questions unanswered and Covenant suffers in pacing painting over those cracks. It is not a great film, but it is an occasionally delightful blood-splattering affair. One that is brilliantly staged, full of surprises and sometimes flawed

Michael Fassbender is brilliant in a dual capacity (Walter/David), but a magician he is not. Katherine Watterson does her best impression of Ellen Ripley, but ultimately she isn’t given enough to do or say, at least not enough to leave a lasting impression. Danny McBride (Tennessee) is a welcome addition to the Alien family and he packs an emotional punch in a film series that discards characters like they’re a couple of dead batteries. Covenant has some of the best sets in horror movie history, complete with a towering performance from Michael Fassbender and some of the most impressive sequences, from a director whose technical mastery will have a raw visceral impact. Prometheus was a rock in the road for Ridley and the franchise, but after much meandering Covenant has put them right back on track.

Michael Fassbender as David / Walter
Katherine Waterston as Daniels
Billy Crudup as Christopher Oram
Danny McBride as Tennessee
Demián Bichir as Sergeant Lope
Carmen Ejogo as Karine Oram
Amy Seimetz as Faris
Jussie Smollett as Ricks
James Franco as Jacob Branson
Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland
Ridley Scott
Writer (based on the characters created by)
Dan O’Bannon
Ronald Shusett
Writer (story by)
Jack Paglen
Michael Green
John Logan
Dante Harper
Dariusz Wolski
Pietro Scalia
Jed Kurzel
Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

Rated R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity.

123 minutes

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