When Prometheus was released five years ago, I think some critics were too quick to jump on the prequel hating bandwagon. For me, Prometheus wasn’t Alien, it wasn’t Aliens, but it certainly wasn’t The Phantom Menace or Attack Of The Clones either. We now know that Prometheus was the first of at least four franchise prequels leading up the original Alien timeline, with 2017 being the turn of Alien: Covenant. With the film looking set to receive a kinder reception than its predecessor, I was eager to once again visit Ridley Scott’s monster filled universe.
Alien: Covenant picks up the story some ten years after the events of Prometheus, with a colony ship carrying 2000 sleeping passengers and 2000 embryos to a newly inhabitable planet. After being woken from stasis by a shockwave, the crew including terraforming expert Daniels (Katherine Waterston), captain Oram (Billy Crudup) and android Walter (Michael Fassbender) pick up a mysterious transmission from a nearby planet on their journey, and after making the decision to explore, meet David (also Fassbender), the sole android survivor of the failed Prometheus mission. Of course, David is not the only entity that the large crew encounters, and after thirty or so minutes of scene setting and exposition, the narrative unfolds in a classically Alien manner of monster cat and mouse complete with ever escalating levels of gory ingenuity.
There is no doubt that Covenant is something of a return to form for the franchise, with the action being tighter and the jumps being bigger, but in trying to weave such an intricate mythology as to the true origins of the terrifying xenomorphs, one can’t help but feel that the film is in danger of plot holing itself in to oblivion. It would be fair to say that narrative consistency has not been one of the franchise’s strong points over the years. Add to this the fact the Ridley Scott himself has expressed regret about the story roots in Prometheus, and you get the sense that he is using Convenant to try to rewrite some of the more recent history he has invented, especially to do with the mysterious ‘Engineers’ that provide one of the biggest unexplained links to the original Alien film. Whilst thoroughly enjoying the experience, my cinema companion and I, both avid Alien fans, found ourselves asking more broad scale and timeline questions on the way home than praising the film in its own right. That being said, don’t let my broader complaints fool you in to thinking that Covenant is a bad movie, because it absolutely is not. In terms of adrenaline pumping encounters with various forms of the iconic aliens, the audience is spoilt for choice. From chest bursting to back bursting to neck bursting and every kind of gore in-between, the film will satisfy science-fiction horror fans with its action, and though the mythology is certainly far from settled, there is plenty of new and interesting information to ponder until the next instalment, hopefully without the filmmakers encouraging us to disregard elements yet again! When it comes to these prequels, the thing is that we know these teams of plucky space rangers are not going to defeat their enemy, otherwise there would be no need for Ripley and her adventures in the future. These prequels are supposed to entertain audiences whilst at the same time filling in some blanks that will eventually lead to an understanding of the fuller picture. Did Alien: Covenant achieve that goal? On the whole, yes.
Though Alien fans are used to having a kick-ass female front and centre, there is no doubt that the MVP of Covenant is Michael Fassbender in his double performance as androids David and Walter. Not only does Fassbender have the most interesting character work to do, but he also helms all of the picture’s most important narrative twists and turns. Special mention too for the special effects and editing teams for making the scenes between the two identical characters look completely flawless. The film does boast a stand out female protagonist in Katherine Waterston’s Daniels, but in my opinion, despite a strong performance from Waterston, the lack of character background or development provided on screen sees Daniels pale in comparison to, of course, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, but even Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw. In fact, the character of Daniels almost feels like an obligatory inclusion on the filmmaker’s part, an attempt to uphold the traditional values and feel of the franchise without actually putting in the hard character work. Their is no doubt that Waterston as Daniels looks the part, but the film truly comes alive when Walter/David are heading proceedings rather than the historically traditional sci-fi heroine.
The remainder of the crew, handsomely sized for alien fodder purposes, are all enjoyable in their varying capacities. The likes of Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bechir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz and Callie Hernandez all do great jobs of building a likeable team for the audience before succumbing to various fates. In fact, in opposition to the early Alien films that are at their best when utilising tense one on one battles, it could be argued that Covenant is most enjoyable when crew numbers are still large, and this is thanks to the impressive individual performances given by the supporting cast.
Overall, Alien: Covenant is a worthy entry in to the still young prequel collection of the Alien franchise. Whether it ends up being one of the best, only time will tell, but it proves to be a fast paced, thrilling two hours of familiar (in the best sense) sci-fi horror fun that adds certain interesting mythology whilst also inspiring questions, questions that one can only hope will be answered in instalments to come. It is a film I think will be enjoyed both by those who enjoyed Prometheus and those who did not. A definite step up in quality.