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Alien: Covenant Review

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In 2012, Ridley Scott returned to the Alien franchise for the first since the movie that started it all, 1979’s Alien, with Prometheus, turning back the clock on the franchise to explain the origins of the Space Jockeys (later revealed to be the Engineers) and flesh out the world beyond people being stalked by the Xenomorph onboard a massive space ship. Personally, I loved Prometheus for it’s world building and additions to the lore, but many didn’t feel the same way. Despite Scott underlining that Prometheus wasn’t about the Xenomorph, audiences went in expecting the Xenomorph, and were  pissed when they didn’t get it. This brings us to Alien: Covenant, which pulls the handbrake on the prequel series, and ditches the continuing adventures of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Repace, who has been Alien 3’d out of this movie) and the head of Micheal Fassbender’s David tooling around the galaxy looking for the Engineers teased at the end of Prometheus. Instead, we're given something much more familiar, with the crew of a colony ship, the Covenant, reacting to a distress signal on an abandoned planet and coming face to face with the iconic and terrifying alien life form.


What we get with Alien: Covenant is a mixture of Alien and Prometheus, but unfortunately the proportions are all off. The first and last twenty minutes are Alien, with claustrophobic corridors and plenty of jump scares (even recycling entire beats from the original on occasion), while the creamy middle is Prometheus, philosophising on the nature of life and dumping a shed load of the universe’s backstory into our laps. There’s no denying this a reaction to the bad press Prometheus got, with Scott and screenwriters John Logan and Dante Harper scrambling to meld the two movies together. The narrative works for the most part, and Scott does succeed in building tension as the crew of the Covenant stumble upon the origins of the movie monster that has been scaring senseless for almost 40 years. It's here, in the bloated middle section, where Covenant starts to fall apart. There are some really big, smart ideas at play here, but you get the feeling that they needed one or two movies to be properly developed. Instead, they are just thrown at us, and we have to take them at face value. They also greatly contradict the events of the first movie, meaning any future sequels have some serious heavy lifting to do to make everything make sense.

Despite it’s story problems, there is quite a bit to like about Alien: Covenant. As I’ve said, Scott ladles on the tension as the movie marches on, and there is a good chunk of the movie that will have your heart in your throat. Everything you love about the Alien franchise is here, from disgusting body horror to spectacular special effects. The redesigns of H.R. Giger’s murder phallus, from the albino nightmare fuel that turns up early on to the much more familiar design that round out the movie, are breathtaking, even if, being mostly CGI, they lack the weight and presence of an impossibly tall man in a suit. They are used to great, skin crawling effect as they start picking their way through the fodder (though we are given one moment fans might see as franchise ruining as the Newborn in Alien: Resurrection), but with a lot of the story spent on their origins, Scott has to shoehorn them in where he can, leading to actually two climactic showdowns with the black skinned beastie, perilously close to each other .


The characters are what you would expect from an Alien franchise, blue collar astronauts, with Katherine Waterson’s Daniels as the Ripley substitute. She plays the franchise’s own brand of string female lead to a tee, and endears herself enough to the audience that we are behind her 100% of the way. Danny McBride proves he’s not always all about the laughs as the Covenant pilot Tennessee, and Billy Crudup goes above and beyond to make you hate him as the ship’s captain, Oram (the closet the movie gets to the detestable company man). It’s Michael Fassbender who steals the show, pulling double duty as the androids David, the only return from Prometheus, and Walter, a later model assigned to the Covenant. He imbues each role with a completely different energy, and he plays off himself wonderfully.

Trying to mesh two movies together, Alien: Covenant just about works. Fans of the franchise will be happy to be back with what they know, but the strain of trying to be familiar and do something new at the same time ultimately hurts it.






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