Alien: Covenant — Film Review

After the mostly negative response to 2012’s Prometheus, Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created with Alien: Covenant.

Clearly the director has taken on-board a lot of fan feedback when it comes to the direction of the franchise as Covenant abandons some of the more pretentious parts of its predecessor in favour of returning the franchise to its horror/sci-fi roots.

Wisely though, Scott doesn’t jettison all of the groundwork laid by Prometheus and Covenant very much acts as a sequel to that film as much as it remains a prequel to the main Alien series.

Michael Fassbender was by far in a way the best part of the last film and the filmmaker gives him plenty of screen-time this time around as Walter, a new model of ‘synthetic’ android accompanying the crew of the Covenant as they set out on a colonisation mission.

As with all great space films, the mission does not go as planned and the crew quickly find themselves going off book with life or death decisions and calculated risks to be made in order to survive.

Covenant’s central device is a fairly simple one — this time around the crew under threat is composed entirely of couples. While the script is somewhat ham-fisted in it’s constant reminders of this fact, (‘That’s my wife’ ‘is my wife ok?’ etc etc) the cast nonetheless do a great job of conveying the added horror of seeing ones spouse in some pretty horrific situations. While previous missions in the Alien universe have consisted of teams of marines or groups of colleagues, the Covenants’ mission is that much more personal. These are people on their was to start a new life and supposedly families when they are diverted by the obligatory ‘distress call’ and the whole thing goes tits-up.

A promotional clip for Alien: Covenant features a team talk with the crew prior to the events of the film.

That core idea brings a fair amount of melodrama to proceedings as scientists, pilots and terraforming experts abandon their scientific reasoning and sometimes common sense, in order to protect their loved ones. This doesn’t mean there aren't any eye-rolling moments where characters make outright dumb decisions, but at least there is a believable reason for it this time around.

While a fair amount of the cast are disposable cannon fodder, the main team provides a solid ensemble of character archetypes. Katherine Waterston’s Daniels is essentially a proto-ripley although her transformation into action-hero towards the end of the film does feel a little unearned and rushed. Billy Crudup and Danny McBride continue the grand ‘Alien’ tradition of a crew made of character actors and each get a number of moments to shine.

This film is all about Fassbender though, to get into any detail as to how and why he steals the spotlight would spoil the entire second half. The marketing team have done a great job of letting us know the right amount of information from trailers, clips etc, while keeping most central revelations for the cinema and that’s the way it should stay.

As the slow-burn first act gives way to the horror of the Alien threat itself, Scott delivers some truly visceral and violent deaths. The mark of any good horror or action film should be a audible reaction from the audience and in my screening Covenant certainly delivered on that front.

By the time the film reaches its climax it feels like the Alien franchise has come full circle. Both Prometheus and now Covenant end with a clear set up for a sequel and while the latter was groan-inducing and frustrating, this time you are left anticipating the next chapter with enthusiasm for a franchise that seems to have found its feet once again.

Covenant acts as a soft-reboot of sorts for Alien, picking and choosing the best parts of previous chapters to create a new hybrid. Six films in, the franchise has been re-invigorated by going back to it’s roots, while a sequel promises to be something completely different. Ridley Scott has essentially created the ‘Force Awakens’ of Alien movies, and depending on your own opinion, this is by no means a bad thing.

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