When I heard that Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant was going to be a mixture of the original Alien origin and the more recent Prometheus, I was quietly confident that normal service had resumed.
I think it’s fair to say that the ‘die-hard’ Alien fans (myself included) felt slightly let down by the over complicated Prometheus (2012) and the lack of characters that you empathised with.
Alien: Covenant is set in 2,104, 10-years after Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) stuffed the head of the humanoid android, David (Michael Fassbender) in her rucksack and hitched a ride to the space jockey’s planet.
The Covenant in the title is a colony vessel, on a voyage to set up a new life with a 15-strong crew and 2,000 colonists in deep sleep. The ship has already been travelling through space for several years until the peace and quiet is abruptly disturbed by a distress signal resulting in the crew having to be woken up in a nauseated premature state by their guardian android Walter (also Michael Fassbender).
Due to a glitch in the system, the crew’s Captain dies in his pod and second in command Oram, (Billy Crudup) a righteous man who would rather get his crew working on repairing the ship instead of taking time to mourn their dead colleague, steps up to steer the crew on the right path.
The deceased Captain (in a cameo role) was also the love interest of Daniels (Katherine Waterston, our new Ripley) who actually backs up Oram with colleague Tennessee (Comedy actor Danny McBride). I won’t name the rest of the crew at this stage as they are all quite forgettable.
It is Tennessee in his straw cowboy hat who deciphers the scrambled audio signal as John Denver’s ‘Country Roads take me Home’ (you didn’t expect that!) and can pinpoint the nearby planet as having similar atmosphere to earth. And rather than spend more uncomfortable years in dodgy pods in space, they decide to send an exploratory team to the planet’s surface to see how suitable it is to sustain human life.
However, by this stage, we the audience already know this is a bad idea and they should have continued their planned route instead of the lazy shortcut. Because ‘There Will be Blood’.
It’s not long before a few red shirt crew members get infected via a new type of plant seed dispersal method. Miniature white Xenomorph’s grow from the human husk and attack the humans like velociraptors in the long grass. A mysterious hooded figure appears and disperses the creatures and leads the group to safety. The team’s saviour is the android David who has been living on the planet for the last decade.
David is really the catalyst in this story and he introduces himself to the team but is he all what he seems? He is surprised to meet his doppelganger Walter and the pair exchange their cultural prowess in a strange homo erotic scene where Michael Fassbender has a tender moment with himself as both androids.
The two robots are polls apart in their reasons for being. Walter finds it his duty to serve and protect his human companions whereas David has evolved to think for himself and does not want to be a servant to mankind, who he despises. In fact, David is not too dissimilar to the Blade Runner android Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer).
I kind of like the idea of going back to the gritty origin storyline but when the action follows crew members running through the Mother ships corridors chasing after these ultimate killing machine creatures with heavy machine guns, it’s all too familiar.
With a larger crew and larger body count, most of what should be scary moments are pre-signposted by someone’s stupidity of not knowing the rules. Such as, don’t go and check out that noise you heard behind that bush, all on your own.
With the original Alien (1979) movie there was always that claustrophobic feel with the civilian engineering crew not prepared to go to battle and you had already invested in these people to make you care. You also only had a parting glance of the creature which slowly built up the tension, as they did in Jaws (1975) and American Werewolf in London (1981).
Having said that. There are a few good action sequences in this film and Katherine Waterston and Danny McBride are the standout performances for me.
It’s a shame that Billy Crudup seems to be playing more unlikeable characters these days, when he was so cool in Almost Famous and Watchmen.
Alien: Covenant is strange as the film is a sequel to Prometheus but still a prequel to the original Alien.
Not sure where the Alien franchise goes from here, although there are many rumours about director Ridley Scott pretending Alien 3 didn’t happen and thereby producing a sequel around Ripley, Corporal Hicks and Newt.
I’m afraid that it left me with a sort of “Huh!” feeling at the end of the film but for all its faults, I still felt as though this was more watchable than Prometheus.
In UK cinemas, May 12th (a whole week before the US)