Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Demian Bichir, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo
3.5 STARS (out of 5)
The Alien franchise has had a remarkable amount to live up to over the years, and after five instalments of varying quality – we didn’t even know Prometheus was really linked until the final few frames – we return once again to the world of Xenomorphs and face-huggers, with Ridley Scott back at the helm, arguably where he belongs, for the third time. Alien: Covenant is effectively the sequel to Prometheus and is also considered the sixth instalment in the franchise, meaning that it has double the pressure – escaping the shadow of a hugely divisive prequel while living up to a quadrilogy that was, as widely agreed, only ever as good as the first two movies. Therefore, it is perhaps calming that it has generally received warm critical and audience reception.
The movie follows on from Prometheus with a new crew – albeit with a ‘synthetic’ of Michael Fassbender’s character, David, on board. They’re piloting a colony ship towards an unknown planet in the hope that they have found a new home – but, of course, what lies there is far from it. In a story which is both classic sci-fi adventure and horror, it’s clear that Covenant aims to take the series back to its incredible roots while offering a few interesting themes and discussions along the way. Visuals and incredible directing, too, can’t hurt.
Covenant certainly benefits from having Scott back at the wheel, and it is immediately more entertaining than Prometheus on the grounds that it appears to borrow a little bit back from the witty yet terrifying scripts of the first two movies. While the characters aren’t particularly memorable beyond a few of their inner turmoils, there is at least a good effort made to try and flesh them out into genuine human beings – ones who, even in the darkest of hours, find humour and a little joy in simply existing. The movie, too, is deeply ponderous about existence as a concept, and it’s a theme that will arise at several points.
Fassbender is called upon to play a new version of a character we’ve seen before, and once again he certainly helps to carry things. Arguably, it was his leading pace that helped to make Prometheus work in the ways that it did – but, at the same time, that movie certainly faltered by not quite slotting in with the rest of the Alien universe. Covenant was originally thought to have been referred to as Prometheus 2 during production, and not only was it a wise marketing decision to label the film according to its earlier roots, but it somehow helps everything go down that little bit smoother.
The action here is great and there are some genuine moments of terror, intrigue and there’s certainly a wow factor bubbling underneath. Scott borrows back all of his best traits he’s built up as a sci-fi director over the years to deliver what is very much a nice call-back to the ‘modern’ science fiction of the 70s and 80s. Current sci-fi is often too heavy-handed and too focused on twists and shock endings – Covenant, while it certainly has its revelations and certainly builds upon the immense story world awaiting it, seems to hit its stride when it simply takes joy in doing what it does best – showcasing some nervy, tense action with big, skeletal aliens and with a band of disposable crew members.
Alien: Covenant - Official Trailer (20th Century FOX)
This way, it can also be a curse – we’ve seen this set-up before. We know not everyone is going to survive, and we know there are going to be some heart-stopping moments where an unfriendly beast from another planet does something unspeakable. Critics of the Alien franchise therefore question whether or not these movies should still be made. The answer is, ultimately, that they are still enjoyable – while Covenant clearly tries to answer a few big questions while posing philosophy throughout the script, it should also be appreciated that Scott has launched a modern love-letter to the big movies that made his name over thirty years ago.
It seems strange to think that a movie still best-known for a slimy extra-terrestrial bursting out of John Hurt’s chest can still turn out instalments – but moviegoers can rest assured that while Covenant isn’t the best in the franchise, it is a very nice return to form for sci-fi in general, and you will leave the cinema feeling satisfied. Dare I say it’s the third best Alien movie in the legacy? Fans will likely agree – it’s up there. For anyone crossing their fingers that this addition to the lineage – shelving Prometheus safely to one side – does the business when it comes to big, dark thrills, I can happily say it’s your money well-spent.