Alien: Covenant review – a thrilling and intense gore-fest

by | 12 May 2017

‘The crew of a colony ship discover what they think is an uncharted paradise but is actually a dark, dangerous world.’

It’s taken five years, but we’ve finally got our sequel to Prometheus (2012), which was itself, the sort-of prequel to 1979’s Alien. Entitled Alien: Covenant, this latest instalment is once again directed by Ridley Scott, bringing with him his usual visual flair and obvious passion for seeing this world built out and expanded. Set ten years after the Prometheus vessel went missing, the story follows a new set of characters on the colony ship Covenant, who are heading to a far-off world with two thousand people in stasis ready to start a new life.

When a random accident wakes up the core crew, made up of married couples, they discover a transmission from a nearby planet. With a potentially better and closer home they decide to investigate. Amongst the crew is terraforming expert Daniels (Katherine Waterston), super serious captain Oram (Billy Crudup), chief pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride), and synthetic, Walter (Michael Fassbender). once there what they find is a desolate landscape with no indications of life, and the android David (Fassbender again), the sole survivor from the Prometheus.

Those who were disappointed with the last film and its lack of answers, particularly to the origins of the Xenomorph, will find a great deal of satisfaction with this film. In hindsight, it’s clear now that Scott’s aim with Prometheus was to lay the foundations and do the groundwork for Alien: Covenant. Not everything’s tied up, and we’re still left with some mysteries, but overall, this is more the prequel many were expecting that first time round. The title says it all really, blatantly spelling out that this is first and foremost, an Alien film, where we even get to explore the different stages of evolution, and how this creature we’ve grown to love and fear over the decades came to be. This film definitely sets the table for more stories to be told, with future instalments already planned for this “Alien Prequel Series”.

Tonally and structurally, this is by far the closest to feeling like an Alien film. Using similar pacing, story beats, and characterisation, there’s no denying we’re watching a film with a very familiar vibe to the 1979 one. Jerry Goldsmith’s original score can even been heard in places, also bridging that gap between the two films. It’s not just Scott’s original that Alien: Covenant is referencing, as not only does it have that scary movie aesthetic from the original, including a fair amount of body horror, but also, whether intentional or not, the high octane action of James Cameron’s Aliens.

Despite the homage, Scott’s smart enough to know he can’t just focus on the prequel elements and do fan service throughout the whole movie. Skilfully, he presents a sequel to Prometheus and continues that story as well, balancing those two sides proficiently. Certain plot threads are picked back up, and although more of a conventional creature feature, Scott still explores some of the big ideas from its predecessor. Likewise, as well as having Goldsmith’s original score, the theme from Prometheus is inserted at times to equally remind us that this is just as much a follow-up as it is a prequel.

As always, Scott proves himself a master when it comes to suspense, especially in the second act when the aliens make their appearance. These are bloody, gory, and intense sequences that will have you white knuckling it all the way through. Making the most of the advances in special effects over the years, we also see a lot more of these deadly creatures, particularly in that final act, where it becomes more action orientated.

Another beautifully made world, the director clearly favours using practical effects and on-location shooting as much as possible, and the film excels because of it. The detail gone into these sets is plain to see, and visually, it’s hard to criticise this film. When it comes to the antagonists, he even uses animatronics and motion capture performance when he can, adding another layer of authenticity. Plus New Zealand’s lush countryside is expertly turned into the gloomy post-apocalyptic planet the crew spend most of their time on, again, creating a realistic and physical environment.

Similar to Prometheus, characterisation is the weakest element of this film, and is pretty much skipped over. Instead, we’re offered a large group of disposable characters bar a few, who are put into clichéd horror scenarios. For example, the guy who stupidly goes off for a cigarette break, practically signalling his demise, or someone running down a long corridor tripping over everything in sight, just to ramp up the tension. Waterston is solid as Daniels but is pretty much a stand-in Ripley, playing that average everyday character who has to dig deep within when everything around her is falling apart. McBride on the other hand is surprisingly awesome, dialling down the crazy comedy antics he’s mostly known for, and actually gives a good dramatic performance.

Really though, it’s Fassbender, who once again carries the film, and in a duo role no less. He easily gets the best material, putting on two distinct personalities as the more advanced but robotic Walter, and the older, egotistical David. So good is he in fact, that when the two synthetics are together onscreen, and combined with the visual effects to make that happen, it really feels like we’re watching to distinct people interacting.

‘By and large, Alien: Covenant is a solid entry to this beloved film series. It not only works as a sequel to Prometheus, but should also satisfy those who wanted more of a conventional prequel, with extra Xenomorph action and the mythology surrounding them expanded. With great visuals, plenty of gore, and another standout performance from Fassbender, this will surely be the film to put this franchise back on track and get us excited to see what Scott does next.’

David Axcell

Film Critic

David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.

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