Alien: Covenant Review
Thrilling in patches and a lot leaner than its predecessor, Prometheus, the latest film in the Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant, retreads old ground with mixed success. It's hard to shake the feeling you've seen it all before, perhaps one too many times now, with the structure of the narrative the only thing that makes it feel any different. Thankfully Ridley Scott has handed over the story almost entirely to Michael Fassbender. So much so in fact, that one of him is no longer enough.
We first see him as David, shortly after his creation, a sense of unease lingering over his conversation with a younger Peter Weyland (and a more recognisable Guy Pearce). A jump forward take us to the year 2103, where a later generation - and more subservient - model named Walter (Fassbender, again) works amongst the crew of the Covenant ship. An unexpected energy blast wakes the human members from their cryosleep, risking the safety of the 2,000 pilgrims on-board, en-route towards building a new world, halfway across the galaxy.
Drawn down to a habitable planet in search of a stray communication signal, the crew run into the life form we all expect to find, but they have yet to be introduced to. Walter comes face to face with his 'brother' David, who has seemingly been stranded on the planet after crash landing the Prometheus ship ten years before. And so it becomes Fassbender meets Fassbender, with added homoerotic undertones and a handy lesson on how to play the flute. As watchable as Fassbender always is onscreen - and that is no different here - the Walter and David show dominates so much, you begin to wonder why the rest of the crew are even there, apart from being easy pickings for the marauding Xenomorph.
The value of human life remains a constant theme throughout, whether being debated by Synthetics, chewed up by alien creatures or just by the fact they are largely omitted from the story altogether. Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup and Danny McBride are the only human crew members of any note, each saddled with their own dead-end sob stories. The Xenomorph doesn't fare much better in claiming the spotlight either. Although we see much more of it than in Prometheus, its presence feels secondary and much less menacing than the original films. The horror of its merciless attacks has lost much of its edge, cut inbetween the usual crowd pleasing, gurning close-ups of its manic smile.
While an ageing Ridley has become ever more obsessed with God, creation and evolution, he certainly hasn’t lost much of his visual flair. The director is a committed proponent of practical effects and these produce most of the stand out moments. There is a lot of blood convincingly splattered on floors, walls, doors and people, as the Alien shoots out of its human hosts by any means necessary. Jed Kurzel’s score develops to build moments of genuine tension, most notably during our re-introduction to the Xenomorph creating havoc, shortly after the crew have touched down to explore the new planet.
In the main this is a return to Alien basics, ticking off the boxes as we go. That simplicity may well be all that Alien fans want to see because, Prometheus clearly was not. Confined on a ship, or left to be picked off on an alien planet, unless the keys to the franchise are handed over to a fresh pair of eyes, it’s hard to see a big shake up in the formula happening anytime soon. For newcomers this might well prove to be two truly terrifying hours of cinema. But if you’ve seen it all before, prepare for more of the same.