Review – Alien Covenant

★★

This is a little left field of my normal content, but i recently watched Alien Covenant and was gripped by a pressing need to discuss it. I’m a massive fan of the original Alien films (well, the first two…) and always find myself seized by an irrational excitement and apprehension every time a new film is scheduled for release. Unfortunately, more often than not this has led to searing disappointment. From cockney convicts to plot holes the size of space itself, it is fair to say that the Alien franchise has caused me more frustration than pleasure. It is not surprising then that i approached Alien Covenant with a certain trepidation, I certainly had very low expectations. This perhaps goes some way towards explaining why I generally enjoyed the film

Covenant is a direct sequel to Ridley Scott’s disastrous Prometheus, the Alien prequel film that Scott insisted was not an Alien prequel film….In this sense, Covenant represents a more clear-cut return to the franchise, centering around a colonization mission bound for the remote planet of ‘Origae-6’. When a sudden ‘neutrino burst’ damages the ship killing both the captain (a bizarrely short cameo for James Franco) and a number of the 2000 colonists in cryosleep, ship synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender) is forced to wake the crew from stasis in order to undergo repairs and restore the ship’s power. Whilst doing so, the ship picks up a cryptic transmission from a nearby planet (we’ve been here before…). This leads to a discussion as to whether it is a good idea to investigate the source or not (lets face it, it never is). After assessing the habitability of the planet, new captain and religious zealot Chris Oram (played by the excellent Billy Crudup) decides to explore the source of the call, sending an expedition team to descend and assess the planet’s atmosphere, terrain and vegetation.

Of course, after landing it is not too long before a couple of expendable characters become ‘infected’. I don’t want to give too much away here, but there is a new dimension to the body horror in this movie that is both novel, grotesque and, well fun! In general I think the first third of the movie is excellent. The tension builds slowly, some of the characters are well fleshed out and the early action scenes are both gripping and atmospheric. It is when the movie attempts to reconnect with the events of Prometheus that it starts to lose its pace.

A few crew members down and unable to contact the mother ship, it is not long before the crew are rescued by David (again played by Fassbender), an older model synthetic who has been marooned on the planet since landing there with other Prometheus survivor Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace). In this section of the movie, Scott once again attempts to explore the philosophical implications of creation and existence and there are some interesting scenes containing the two synthetics ….so basically Michael Fassbender and Michael Fassbender. Unfortunately, overall this section of the movie is a little incoherent and fragmented. The tension seems to drain out of the film in minutes and the subsequent deaths seem both rushed and ultimately inconsequential. In some ways, the best thing about Alien Covenant is that, in revisiting the plot of Prometheus, it basically eliminates the need to ever watch the film again. The events of Covenant make Prometheus ultimately redundant, which, i cant say i’m too sad about.

The last third of the film is pretty much rip roaring action and i’m not sure this is Scott’s strength. The first third of the film feels much more like the original, whereas the final third seems to be attempting to emulate the action and adrenaline of James Cameron’s Aliens. There are a couple of other frustrating things about Covenant. For one, the CGI is pretty bad. Not Alien 3 bad…but still bad. It think practical effects have always been better in films of this ilk and the fast moving, headbutting xenomorph in Covenant just doesn’t have the threat and meandering menace of the one from the first film. There are also a few plot holes and continuity issues that really bug me. Without wanting to spoil too much, one character ends up with a facehugger attached to his face, which, you know, is fine. But the gestation period is so short. Viewing wise it seems to be in his chest for about 3 mins, which in the context of the narrative is probably an hour or two. This is so much shorter than Kane in the first film, not to mention Ripley’s marathon gestation in Alien 3 (the thing honestly seems to be in there for about 4 weeks). These kind of consistency things really bug me, but i guess its not that big a deal…is it?

Covenant ends on a nice cliff hanger and overall is good film. I certainly think it is the best entry in to the franchise since the original two movies. A lot has been said about the film being derivative, but in some ways i think that this accusation is a little unfair. There is a lot of novelty in the film and Katherine Waterston as ‘Daniels’ does an excellent job with a tricky role. I also enjoyed Danny McBride’s surprisingly layered performance as ‘Tennessee’. The film is not as good as the original two, that’s just a fact. But there is a lot here to enjoy if you are a franchise mega fan. It’s certainly the first Alien film in a long time that i haven’t wanted to ‘blow out of the goddamn airlock’….to quote Ripley.