If you’re heading into Covenant expecting a stripped back, return to roots Alien experience, you’re in for a disappointment. It is, however, a massive improvement on director Ridley Scott’s previous entry in the franchise, Prometheus – even though it still finds itself hanging onto that film’s coattails.
That decision alone is a head scratcher. It’s not as though Prometheus was a resounding success – quite the opposite, in fact. An overly complicated mess, it’s been firmly relegated to the Alien bargain bin in the years since its release, and deservedly so. And yet there it has not remained, unfortunately. Because just as things are heating up nicely, the ideas, tone and themes of Prometheus rear their heads again. It’s the bad ex that Scott can’t seem to steer clear of. Mercifully, this is largely contained to the midsection. It’s a slog, but what it’s bookended by is just the medicine that the film needs, tying more closely to the series’ traditions of creeping tension and all out bloodshed.
We make our way back to Alien’s dark future aboard colony ship Covenant, as it hurtles through space, carrying its crew, hundreds of colonists, and Walter (Michael Fassbender), a synthetic AI, towards their new home of Origae-6. Damage to the ship awakens the crew early from cryosleep, and into the path of an unknown, seemingly habitable planet far closer to them than their planned destination. A planet they should naturally stay well away from, and one which of course they do not. It’s a simple, quietly confident set up, turning the screw slowly as the crew’s inevitable demise draws nearer. The only thing missing is more time spent on getting to know said crew.
Fassbender is uncannily un-human as Walter (later pulling double duty, reprising his role from Prometheus as David), Danny McBride brings the heart and humour as the ship’s pilot Tennessee, Billy Crudup plays first mate Christopher Oram, and Katherine Waterston fills the Ripley role efficiently as all round badass Daniels. Beyond this, however, there are another eight or so members of the team that amount to little more than fodder. Considering that a Prologue fleshing out the characters was released online in the build up to the film, it seems odd that this (or something similar) wasn’t included in the final cut. It doesn’t take away from the fun too much once they all start getting wiped out, yet a touch more detail would certainly have lent to making you care a bit more about them being offed.
Those doing the offing here are the planet’s inhabitants, the aliens of the film’s title. Not only do we get a return of the classic Xenomorph (yay!), but also newcomers in the devilishly skittish little Neomorphs, all of which rain destruction down around them. Oh yes, it’s gory. Very, very gory. Amongst all of the horror, we get some of the most beautiful imagery the series has ever provided. Amazing locations, impressive sets, and fantastic visual effects provide the background to Aliens-esque gung-ho action early on. And whilst the snooze button is hit for a large chunk in the middle of the film, when it does finally rouse from its slumber for the final act, it’s for some original Alien-style claustrophobic corridor stalking Xenomorph goodness.
I just can’t help but wish that there was more of this, and less of the convoluted hangover from Prometheus.
Rating (out of 5):