Released: June 2017
Director: Ridley Scott
What is now the sixth instalment in the Alien franchise of films didn’t have much to live up to, following the shaky reception to 2012’s Prometheus, or indeed the very 90’s Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection. Prometheus suffered from being hyped up before release to a degree that no film could ever match, and then it’s scale was so grand and epic, that instead of being impressive, it served only to highlight the inadequacy of it’s plot to match it’s cinematography. It was undoubtedly visually stunning though, and this may explain the initial slew of positive vibes upon it’s release, which quickly dissolved into poor reviews as people realised they’d been dazzled into overlooking some pretty major plot holes and poor scripting, and were left with many more questions that Ridley Scott ever intended.
Alien: Covenant does not answer all these questions, but it is a fairly good attempt at reconciling the new, expansive and pseudo-scientific direction that Prometheus took with the classic 1980’s horror original. It’s enjoyable enough, with fewer (although definitely not no) moments of utter stupidity from the crew, and a better, if still slightly confused, plot line.
Ten years after the Prometheus was lost, a colony spaceship is heading for new worlds, when it diverts to investigate a rogue signal being detected from a hitherto unnoticed plant. Once there, they uncover the wreck of the Prometheus and start to suffer the usual slew of deaths associated with Alien contact. The film does walk the line between the originals and the prequel well- it explores big issues of madness, power, humanity and creation, without suggesting it was going to answer questions it clearly never could. It also manages to do this while giving us classic, claustrophobic horror scenes, with a relentless alien still creating fear and tension despite no longer being that alien to viewers.
Scott has tried to recreate his success with Ripley in both Prometheus and Covenant, but never with much success. That’s not to say that Waterston doesn’t do her part, but both her and Noomi Rapace in Prometheus lack the substance that Ripley had. This is probably in part down to these films following more people and more plot for more time, whereas Alien really gave you time to get to know Ripley and Ripley alone, and in part due to the characters being a facsimile of Ripley. It’s like Scott asked people what they liked about Ripley, got the answer that she’s a strong and independent woman, and just wrote characters to that specification instead of trying to create someone new for us to care about. In fact, the whole crew suffer from this to some extent, with every character being just a version of someone from the Prometheus. Oddly the exception to this is Walter, played by Michael Fassbender. As he is from the same line of synthetics as David from the Prometheus mission, he looks exactly the same as David, which gives Fassbender the chance for some delightful double-role playing, but as a newer model his personality is different: less flawed, according to him. In order to highlight the differences between these two, Walter is carefully depicted, and this brings him far more to life than his human counterparts. A special mention must also be made for Danny McBride, who manages to stop his swaggering pilot devolving into a cliche spouting machine with a nuanced performance.
All in all, Alien: Covenant delivers a satisfying bag of classic Alien action scenes, with a bigger story than the originals which help to tie Prometheus in with the other films. If you loved Prometheus, it’s possible you’ll resent this step back towards safer ground, but if you found Prometheus overblown, self-important and ridiculous, you’ll be pleased with the direction taken. We’re back where the franchise should be, now we just need the next film to take us somewhere new.