Film Review: ‘Alien: Covenant’

In space no-one can hear you philosophise…

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride

Directed by:  Ridley Scott / Written by: John Logan and Dante Harper (story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green) / 122 minutes

What’s it about?

Diverting to investigate the origins of a mysterious signal, the crew of the colony ship Covenant are soon fighting for their lives against horrific and unstoppable creatures…

In review

In 2012, director Ridley Scott reawakened the dormant (some would even say stagnant) Alien franchise with Prometheus, a sort of quasi-prequel to the original 1979 classic that took place within that universe whilst charting its own course by exploring deep existential and philosophical themes concerning the origins of life and the horrific consequences of playing God.  Although divisive amongst fans of the iconic science fiction/horror series, the questions posited by Prometheus and a desire to correct some of its perceived shortcomings have lead to this latest instalment, Alien: Covenant, with mixed results acheived.

Picking up ten years after the close of Prometheus, we are introduced to the colony ship ‘Covenant’, whose core crewmembers are awakened prematurely in critical circumstances by on board synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender).  As vital repairs to the ship are attended to, the interception of a mysterious signal leads to the discovery of a nearby Earth-like planet that the crew believes may be a more idyllic site for colonisation than their original destination and an investigative course deviation warranted.  It’s needless to say from there that ‘paradise’ is ultimately not what it seems and harbours dark secrets that will turn the colonist’s hopes for a prosperous new life into a fight for survival.

Whilst Prometheus took strides to set itself apart from being a traditional Alien film (more an extension of the universe rather than a completely devoted tie-in or continuation of it), Covenant is unmistakably that, returning the series to its harder horror roots, with some twists on familiar elements as it works to further develop the Alien prequel story and continue discussions of life and creation.

For its first half, Covenant takes a slow, measured approach, allowing a steady build-up of intrigue and an ominous sense of foreboding before unleashing monstrosities – both new and old – upon the unsuspecting human players.  It’s as grisly and bloody an affair as director Scott has been teasing, the terror aided by a mix of classic Giger designs with the new ‘neomorph’ creature – a suitable evolution from the creations we saw in Prometheus.  It’s in the film’s second half where things start to derail and go awry as the script, despite lofty ambitions as it references Byron and Mary Shelley, falls victim to cliché and predictability as it begins to check off a grocery list of scenarios similar to what we’ve already seen before and not necessarily helped by lashings of fan service.  It culminates in some exciting but perhaps slightly misguided blockbuster CGI spectacle that attempts to meld Prometheus with Alien and Aliens, leading to a derivative finale that feels rushed and lacking in suspense.  There are also some questionable narrative choices along the way, particularly those concerning the origins of the alien ‘xenomorphs’ that may irk long term fans of the franchise especially considering that (much like Prometheus) it further demystifies Alien.

In terms of the cast, Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts) does a decent job of portraying Daniels, another strong female character type who is actually something a little more than the mere Ripley-clone the marketing suggests.  Watchmen’s Billy Crudup is also great in a believable turn as Oram, the Covenant’s captain and man of faith, whose spirituality permits further exploration of the existential ponderings posed by Prometheus.  It’s also worth mentioning Danny McBride who proves to be another notable member of the cast – and certainly not comic relief – as the ship’s pilot, Tennessee.  However, Alien: Covenant really belongs to the excellent Michael Fassbender who excels in the dual role of android ‘synthetics’ Walter and David.  With a captivatingly subtle and nuanced performance (and an effortless switch between accents) he is arguably the film’s strongest draw.

Although the script for Covenant may be problematic, there’s no faulting Ridley Scott’s direction as he once again demonstrates his talent for world-building and the ability to present a visually astounding film by marrying beautiful and striking photography from its New Zealand locations with brilliant production design that’s only let down by a reduced emphasis on practical effects in the creature action.

Despite its flaws, Covenant is still an enjoyable enough addition to the Alien franchise.  It’s by no means its greatest instalment but there’s no doubt that Ridley Scott’s film is superior to Alien: Resurrection and Alien vs Predator albeit far from being on the same level as Alien and Aliens and is quite likely to prove as divisive as Prometheus.

The bottom line:  Hindered by predictability and a rushed finale, as well as controversial story choices, Alien: Covenant is carried by its arresting visuals and the performance of lead actor Michael Fassbender.

Alien: Covenant is in cinemas across the UK now and opens in the US and worldwide from 19th May.

alien covenant

It’s back: the iconic xenomorph returns to reign terror in ‘Alien: Covenant’.

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12 thoughts on “Film Review: ‘Alien: Covenant’

  1. I didn’t mind Alien Covenant, though it was much better than Prometheus, but it still can’t match the original film IMOP. Ridley Scott assured direction ensures the film looks stunning, the plot has some interesting themes, but I agree with you the finale seemed a bit rushed. Though serviceable and enjoyable enough, Alien Covenant doesn’t really do anything that different, these prequels just seem intent on demystifying everything really. Great review as well, you raise some extremely valid points.

    • Cheers Paul, the Alien origin story is not something we needed really and Covenant is quite controversial in that regard. I’d certainly be interested in seeing another Ridley Scott Alien film but I’m not at all keen on the desire to lead up directly into the classic original. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. What rating is this? I’m just wondering if our local library will ever get a copy once it comes out on dvd/bluray. They’ve got Prometheus, so there is a chance…

  3. How does it rank with the other Alien films and Prometheus? And more importantly is it worth seeing in the cinemas or should we wait to catch this on Blu-ray?

    • For me, it sits more or less level with Prometheus. Slightly better in some respects but suffers from similar problems. In terms of Alien films it’s comparable to Alien 3. I would definitely recommend seeing it on the big screen (imax if possible) as its visually astonishing, just approach with reasonable expectations.

  4. Good review, will not be watching as not a horror fan and bit of a scaredy cat….good to see NZ Milford Sound in the movie though

  5. Not Mary Shelley – Percy Bysse Shelley, the poet! Famous for Ozymandias, among other works. Mary Shelley was his wife, and less famous than him at the time – but nobody reads poetry any more, though they still like to read about/watch movies about monsters.

    As for the film, it was horrible from start to finish. As you say, it was unoriginal. It was also an idiot plot – everything that happened could have been avoided by the characters being a bit less idiotic.

    • Thanks, I was actually referring to the Frankenstein element – hence the mention of Mary Shelley but thank you for your insight and for checking out the review!

  6. I have to admit how confusing the chronology is. I didn’t even know all these movies were related, until recently! I think I’ve only seen Alien vs. Predator in this whole universe, yet I’m not even sure if it’s part of the continuity or if it’s some sort of spin-off. What was the best installment in this series for you? Sounds like Alien: Covenant was an average movie that simply builds back the hype behind these popular creatures on the big screen. Might wait till it releases digitally before checking it out. Fantastic review, sir. It’s nice to hear your own thoughts on this one and all the elements the movie lacked.

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