Alien: Covenant – movie review

Right off the bat, here are three reasons you should see Alien: Covenant:

  1. Ridley Scott is back.
  2. The xenomorphs are back.
  3. If you’ve seen Prometheus, it will finally make sense.

Yes, Ridley Scott is once more in the director’s chair to take us back into the dark, unforgiving world of the Alien franchise. The result is, thankfully, one of the most thoughtful and gripping sci-fi adventures of recent years. And while that is due mainly to the intelligent screenplay from John Logan and Dante Harper, the exceptional work of Katherine Waterston and Michael Fassbender shouldn’t be underestimated.

After a brief prologue, the film opens – as all Alien movies must – on a spaceship cruising through the cosmos. It’s the Covenant, a colony ship on the way to a distant planet with a complement of crew and settlers for the new world. Everyone is in hyper-sleep, but the ship’s operations are overseen by Walter (Fassbender), a “synthetic”. During a routine re-charging exercise, the ship is hit by a stellar flare, knocking out one of its recharging sails. The incident prompts the crew to wake up; but there’s immediate disaster when a malfunction in a pod kills the ship’s captain. That leaves indecisive first officer Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge. During the repair operation, crew member Tennessee (Danny McBride) experiences severe interference in his communication system. Analysis leads the crew to conclude it was a signal – of human origin – emanating from what appears to be a hospitable nearby planet. Over the objections of chief engineer Daniels (Waterston), Oram decides to take the Covenant into orbit around the planet and seek out the source of the transmission.

Fanboys will be pleased to see that the angular, black aliens (based on the nightmarish visions of H. R. Giger) we’re all familiar with are back. None of them appeared in Prometheus, and the reason for that is fully explained here.

As mentioned, the script is a complex beast that delves deep into mythology and the franchise’s own back-story for inspiration. Whereas Prometheus was rooted in Greek mythology (something continued here to some extent), Alien: Covenant borrows heavily from Norse mythology; especially as interpreted by Wagner in his Ring cycle of operas – and explicitly referenced twice in the film. This gives the story a surprising intellectual heft. It also pays visual homage to other movies in the genre, including 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The plot comes a lot closer to the unsettling tone of the original Alien (1979) than many of the other installments in the franchise. The air of dread is punctuated by moments of intense action, all of which are expertly handled by Scott and his crew. One of the main reasons to go to a movie like this is the promise of gripping action – and I was well and truly gripped.

Just as an aside, the film also features what is a contender for the single most perfectly narcissistic scene in the history of cinema. That scene alone is worth the price of admission.

Scott is clearly aware of this film’s place in the Alien canon. The xenomorphs we see are rather more primitive than the one seen in the original. They don’t exhibit the trick of hiding among machinery, for example; indicating this is a learned behaviour that develops in the interim.

As you might expect, there’s a considerable amount of gore, but with a couple of exceptions, it’s mainly off-screen and generally pretty restrained. That said, it’s probably not the film for those with a weak stomach.

The surprisingly large cast is led by Waterston as the practical, determined Daniels. While there will inevitably comparisons to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, it’s safe to say Waterston holds her own in the comparison. Daniels is a rather different character, even if they share some qualities (resourcefulness being high on that list) and Waterston hits all the right notes. Michael Fassbender plays a dual role as both Walter and David (the role he played in Prometheus). It’s an impressive double-act; as he gets to play off both Waterston and himself (!). Dannie McBride gets a sizeable dose of screen time as Covenant pilot Tennessee; while Billy Crudup does a good job of conveying the indecision in Oram.

Despite being a “bridging” film between Prometheus and AlienAlien: Covenant manages to stand on its own two (scary) feet. According to Scott, there will be at least one and probably two more to complete that “bridge”. If they’re as good as this, the completed series will be something special.

Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Michael Fassbender
Release Date: 11 May 2017
Rating: MA 15+

David Edwards

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