‘Alien: Covenant’ Review

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Our Rating

Chestbursters5
5

Sir Ridley Scott returns to the Alien franchise. Franchise remains unimpressed.

In deep space, the crew of the Covenant, a colony ship heading to a distant world to begin new lives, answer a distress call from an uncharted planet. Which turns out to be an enormous error…

So, here we are, five years on from ‘Prometheus‘, a film that remains, and I hate to use this word, ‘divisive’. Ugh. I’m in something of an awkward position here, as I’m one of seemingly a small handful of people in this world who actually liked that film, not something I admit lightly. Yes, it had some iffy acting (take a bow Idris Elba’s accent) and a story that lacked focus, but it was also genuinely scary in places, and showcased the visual flare that has become Scott’s most prominent trademark. However, the one thing it wasn’t was a prequel to Alien, no matter how much people wanted it to be. Sharing DNA with the Alien universe, was what we were actually told, which basically amounted to featuring a character with the surname ‘Weyland‘. So does AVP, and we know how that turned out. Personally I’ve yet to be convinced of the need for a prequel to Alien, seeing as it’s an almost perfect movie in its own right. And the whole mystery of where those pesky Xenomorphs actually come from is a major part of that perfection. Isn’t it enough that they exist at all, a literal nightmare come to life? Who cares who made them. Well, it seems Ridley Scott cares. And who am I to argue with the man who made G.I Jane

Alien: Covenant

To say Alien: Covenant comes with a serious amount of expectation would be an epic understatement. The problems with Prometheus, coupled with an ongoing fascination with a film series that has more duds than people will accept, has left a gap that Covenant wants to fill. As such we find ourselves in the odd position of watching a film that is both prequel (of sorts) and sequel (no question). And, and this is extremely frustrating to write, it fails to satisfy on both counts. As a prequel, it still feels like we’re in some odd parallel universe to the one that will one day spawn the Nostromo and the Sulaco. Like the Prometheus, the Covenant is all new and shiny, and advanced enough to seemingly cross the universe. Bear in mind this is all set around 18 years before Alien. What exactly happens to the starship building industry of the future, that they go from these sleek and shiny wonders to what is is effectively a space-going Transit van? Answers on a postcard…

Alien: Covenant

However, as a sequel to Prometheus, it’s arguably less successful. The ending of that movie, as Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and the somewhat broken android David (Michael Fassbender) jetted off into space in search of the Engineers home world, was ripe with possibilities. Possibilities that are not even remotely acted on. Instead, we begin with the crew of the Covenant being woken from their hyper-sleep pods by an improbable, albeit spectacularly realised accident, that results in the death of one character (an uncredited James Franco, yes really), but conveniently has everyone awake to intercept the distress call that kicks things off. Quite why you’d answer a distress call made out of a John Denver record is anyone’s guess, but answer it they do, and soon the bulk of the crew are on the planets surface, all seemingly coming to the conclusion that this uncharted and decidedly unfriendly looking world could be a more viable home than the planet they were already headed to. It’s worth noting at this point that, as well as the crew, the Covenant is also home to around 2000 colonists. Their opinions about all of this are never sought…

Alien: Covenant

It’s hard to say too much about what comes next without heading into the dreaded spoiler territory, although certain details are common knowledge, thanks to the trailers. That the crew encounter a miraculously repaired David as well as some aliens should come as no surprise, but the direction the plot then wanders off in will frustrate many. Instead of the balls-out, action/survival horror hybrid that the trailer promised, we instead get Fassbender-squared, as David and his fellow android Walter (no, me neither) discuss themes such as identity, self-worth and creativity. At the same time the, mostly expendable, crew begin to discover the true extent of the danger they, and by default, the colonists are actually in, leading to some questionable decisions. Unfortunately things become somewhat predictable about two-thirds of the way in, and you may find yourself playing your own private game of ‘When will this character die’, (a game I may well patent). Another problem here is that many of this crew are completely anonymous (I had to look some of them up on IMDB afterwards just to find out what they were called), meaning that the inevitable flood of demises lacks any real emotional impact. Try watching Alien and Aliens to see the opposite of this…

As the climax approaches, and things shift into super-high-gear, you get reminders of what this film really could have been, had a bit more attention been paid to the action and survival elements (the bits that made Alien and Aliens so successful), and a bit less been paid to the philosophising Fassbenders and their waffling on about identity. Indeed the last 15 minutes or so come across as a homage to the greatest-hits of the afore-mentioned classics, giving you the sense that even Scott realised he’d cocked it up again, and was trying to make amends (unlikely, I know). It’s just a shame that you have to sit through so much guff to get to it.

Alien: Covenant

The biggest tragedy of all this is that there was someone else who wanted to make another Alien movie, but at the other end of the saga. Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium, Chappie) had an idea in development with Fox for a 5th Alien movie, one that would’ve worked as a direct sequel to Aliens while striking Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection form the records (which we can all get on board with). That this idea also had the backing of Ripley herself, Sigourney Weaver, makes that fact that it’s highly unlikely to happen even more frustrating, as reports suggest that Scott has scuppered the whole thing in favour of continuing this prequel nonsense. While it’s likely that Scott is thought a much more viable filmmaker than Blomkamp (and that’s probably a fair point), it doesn’t make the situation any less frustrating. Like Prometheus before it, Covenant showcases Ridley Scott at his best and worst, delivering arresting, imaginative visuals coupled to a lacklustre, directionless plot, weak characters, and clunky philosophy that sits ill-at-ease with the action and horror tropes on display. A wasted opportunity? You have no idea. Now, does anyone have James Cameron’s phone number?

Alien: Covenant

About author

TheMetalHead

Long-time fan of all things geek-related. Comics, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, Warhammer, video games, mythology, you name it, I probably like it. This also extends to pro-wrestling and heavy metal, hence the name. Particular loves would be the Star Wars sage, Game of Thrones (books and TV), Judge Dredd, Assassins Creed, and many more. Born and raised in Essex by parents who have broadly supported these passions over the years, so much so that they now share many of them.