Alien: Covenant (2017)

Image courtesy of: 20th Century FOX

Finally, after months of marketing tease, Alien: Covenant is upon us, the sixth film in the ongoing saga. As a huge fan of the Alien films (favourite being James Cameron’s Aliens), I was very intrigued by this new film, if not entirely convinced of its worth; it is after all saddled with an almost insurmountable problem, in that it is a sequel to Prometheus, a film so riddled with problems that it makes Alien 3 look masterful. Indeed, one of Alien: Covenant’s most significant problems is that it is a sequel to Prometheus first, and an ‘Alien’ film second.

Alien: Covenant is set ten years after Prometheus, and opens with a flashback of android David (Michael Fassbender) at his activation, in conversation with his creator, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce). It’s a very indulgent scene, a curious intellectual throwdown between creator and creation, thankfully quickly forgotten as we are thrown into disaster aboard the colony ship Covenant, as the vessel is hit by a solar flare that causes casualties amongst the precious human cargo. In the aftermath of this disaster, the crew of the Covenant pick up a signal from a nearby planet, that is human in origin. The decision is made to investigate and the team, led by newly installed Captain Oram (Billy Crudup), trace the signal to a crashed alien ship in a nearby mountain range. Their mission becomes compromised very quickly, and they come under attack. They are rescued by an unlikely saviour, in the form of David, who leads them to his sanctuary, amidst the ruins of a long-dead alien civilisation. This is essentially the first half of the film, and is Alien: Covenant’s strength. What follows in the second half undoes all of that good work.

The film is not without positives; it’s an attractive film, as are all Ridley Scott directed productions, beautifully shot throughout. Production design is impressive, from the technology of the Covenant to the ruins of the civilisation the crew encounter. The action is quick and intense when it occurs, and the horror and gore quotients are equally well served but surprisingly restrained. The score by Jed Kurzel is a retro blast back to the first two films, utilising some familiar cues amongst original compositions. The crew of the Covenant are a more sympathetic bunch than their counterparts in Prometheus. Even their synthetic is a more pleasant type; Walter (also played by Michael Fassbender) is a less independent, creative force than his predecessor, David, therefore less inclined to question his orders. Walter knows his worth, and his limitations.

One of my chief gripes about Prometheus was its lack of engaging characters. That has mostly been rectified for Alien: Covenant, and the cast do well with what they are given – which, unfortunately, is a script heavy on exposition and its own sense of self-importance, hamstrung at times by some truly awful lines (one in particular had the audience sniggering). One nice touch that the script does provide is that the crew of the Covenant are all couples, and this makes each death that more significant. Out of the cast, Katherine Waterston, as Daniels, and Danny McBride’s Tennessee are the most notable, and both are likeable, bringing a sense of warmth and history to their roles. But Fassbender is a mixed bag here. His David has lurched into caricature, descending into a Dr Moreau-esque mad inventor, and this overpowers the film to its detriment. Walter is the more interesting android, and Fassbender’s performance as he is much more in line with Lance Henriksen’s excellent Bishop, from Aliens.

The film-makers juggle three very contrasting plotlines – one: the continuing story of David, two: the crew of the colony ship Covenant, and three: the rise of the xenomorphs. None are particularly well handled. The film’s conclusion is a twist too far, predictable as it is lacking in any quality or resonance, leaving no doubt that Fassbender’s David will continue to be a presence in at least one more Alien film, recently confirmed as being Alien: Awakening. In addition, the revelation of Dr Elizabeth Shaw’s fate is a wasted opportunity. Noomi Rapace was one of the brighter things in Prometheus, and her character is given very short shrift.

As for the xenomorphs themselves, they are an afterthought, relegated essentially to henchmen status. In the first four Alien films, the xenomorphs are hive-mind creatures, their every action in service to the wider desires of the hive, nest and queen. What is terrifying in those films, particularly in Alien and more so in Aliens, is that the xenomorphs are hunting the humans not for bloodletting, as in Alien: Covenant, but out of a need to procreate. Therein lies the true terror, and that threat is largely absent from this film; there are alien eggs and facehuggers but they are presented without any satisfying explanation. Here, the xenomorphs are a novelty act.

Ridley Scott has now directed three of the six films in the Alien series, starting with his near-perfect Alien in 1979. He was unhappy at being overlooked for the original sequel, that became Cameron’s Aliens. Unfortunately, both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant prove that perhaps Scott should have stayed away from returning to the series. Based on their quality, the prospects of Alien: Awakening are not good.

Video courtesy of: 20th Century FOX

Alien: Covenant (2017)
Alien: Covenant poster Rating: N/A/10 (N/A votes)
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: John Logan (screenplay), Dante Harper (screenplay), Jack Paglen (story by), Michael Green (story by), Dan O'Bannon (based on characters created by), Ronald Shusett ("Alien" characters)
Stars: Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, James Franco, Noomi Rapace
Runtime: N/A
Rated: N/A
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
Released: 19 May 2017
Plot: The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape.
Andrew Jamieson

Andrew Jamieson

Writer, Reviewer at reviewsphere
Andrew is an award-nominated fantasy steampunk author based in Edinburgh.
Andrew Jamieson

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