Review: Alien: Covenant (2017)

Despite the title, it's more Prometheus than Alien.

Ridley Scott returns to the Alien franchise for a third outing to continue the backstory of the original film and to answer more questions concerning the Xenomorph’s origins. After the confusion that proceeded Prometheus (2012) “Is it an Alien film or isn’t it?”, Scott went back and forth on the idea until finally he decided, it was. This time there is no question over its DNA with “Alien” firmly included in the title.

Alien: Covenant picks up ten years after the events of Prometheus following the crew of the USCSS Covenant and its 2000 plus passengers heading to a sufficient planet for colonisation. However, after an opening fatal incident they come across a nearby planet that could serve just as well and send down a team to investigate. As you’d expect they discover more than they bargained for and the success of the colonisation is put into jeopardy.

When Scott made Alien back in 1979 he reinvented the horror genre creating one of the most iconic creatures to appear on celluloid. The tense dark corridors of the Nostromo and the slow build of impending doom for all those aboard struck fear into the audience and proved that sci-fi could be terrifying. Though Prometheus introduced interesting ideas in regards to the Engineers and explained the space jockey it was plagued by flaws that prevented it from being the prequel everyone had hoped. Unfortunately despite the title, Alien: Covenant is more Prometheus than Alien.

The first half is very much a repeat of what we’ve already seen in Prometheus as they arrive on a planet similar to Earth and stumble upon the engineers with characters continuing to make the same stupid decisions that cost them their lives as well as those around them. These supposedly intelligent people clearly have plot progression in mind as no sane person would voluntarily choose the path they so often do. I lost count how many times someone walked off by themselves on a planet they know to be hostile. When they’re not pursuing a death wish, they spend the rest of their time explaining to each other what’s happening.

There also seems to be a problem when dealing with larger crews. Whereas Alien featured seven members that were each developed to make them rounded characters we could care about, Alien: Covenant gives us a bloated team of 15. Outside of four or five that take charge at various points showing signs of character traits and personality, the rest are completely undeveloped becoming interchangeable and exist purely as Alien lunch.

As the film attempts to build its history and fill in the gaps between Prometheus and Alien it throws up more questions than it answers and can at times be frustrating. One of the great things about the original was its mystery behind where the Xenomorphs came from and in many cases the unexplained is better, allowing the audience to ponder its own interpretation. Alien: Covenant is determined to prevent that.

For its flaws in character development and plot it manages to redeem itself somewhat mainly from Scott’s ability to create worlds and direct some fantastic set pieces, particularly the final act which I couldn’t help but wish covered the whole film. Additionally the first alien encounter makes its entrance in a way that references the traditional expectation and yet changes it up making it more horrifying. I won’t say too much, but it brings new meaning to the term “back-ache”.

Overall, like Prometheus, it’s not the Alien sequel we’ve been hoping for from the man who started it all, but some key moments make it an enjoyable watch and solid performances from Katherine Waterston as a new age Ripley and Michael Fassbender revisiting his inner android will keep you invested.

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