Alien: Covenant (USA / Australia / New Zealand / UK, 16, 122 mins)
Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo.
The Plot: Deep space. The spaceship Covenant is en route to a new world, carrying over 2,000 colonists looking to start a new life. That includes the crew, which is woken up 7 years too early after the ship is damaged by solar flares. Oram (Billy Crudup) has command thrust upon him, with reliable Daniels (Katherine Waterston) his second in command. Also among the crew are pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride), Lope (Demian Bichir) and Karine (Carmen Ejogo). There’s also a non-human onboard – android Walter (Michael Fassbender). When the crew receives a signal from a nearby planet, they investigate in the hope that it might be habitable and shorten their journey. Upon arrival, they find that it’s a paradise lost with a deadly, perfect organism on the loose…
The Verdict: This is Rumour Control. Here are the facts. When Prometheus was released in 2012, it more than hinted at grander ambitions for the Alien franchise. Ridley Scott wanted to explore the origin of the species and develop an evolutionary through-line to his original film. While this reviewer quite liked Prometheus, it lacked one essential element – the xenomorph that we all know and love / fear. Scott included it as more of an afterthought in the closing seconds of the film. Perhaps sensing the disappointment of some fans, Scott has gone back-to-basics.
Originally titled Alien: Paradise Lost and then Alien: Covenant, there’s a theme running through the film about hope and new beginnings. Not for long though. This being an Alien film (for sure), it’s not long before all hell breaks loose and the crew of the Covenant find themselves fighting for survival against a superior force. The recent snippets of footage released to sate salivating fans work in conjunction with the film, rather than being part of it. To say too much would be to spoil its many twists and turns, but it’s enough to say that Fassbender has a ball portraying the motivations of his character(s).
For the first time in 20 years, the xenomorphs in all their guises are back in full force (let’s forget about the risible Alien vs Predator films). However, Scott mixes it up and plays around with audience expectations. Forget about a chestburster. What about a backburster? The xenomorph is still evolving to some degree, so there are a variety of xenomorphs here. He succeeds in recapturing that terror-in-space atmosphere of his original film, with the excellent Waterston picking up Ripley’s flamethrower as the crew’s reluctant heroine. It’s a throwback which works well.
The film is not without its flaws though. After spending so long setting up the Engineers in Prometheus, Scott gives them a backseat here. A bit more Engineer mythology wouldn’t have gone amiss in the screenplay, particularly in relation to the grander ambitions for the franchise. Just to balance it out with Prometheus. Observant viewers will see the ending coming but what a brilliant, nausea-inducing ending anyway. Scott has already said that four (!) more films are in the pipeline, connecting the dots to Alien. On the strength of the new film, Scott is taking the franchise in a bold and exciting new direction. Alien: Covenant certainly delivers on the icky terror front. In short, it’s terror-ific.