Close-up body horror, a strong female protagonist, epic visuals, and lots of slavering monsters are pretty much a requisite for any Alien film.
Covenant delivers on all of those counts but somehow fails to be memorable in the way that the original was. Characters come and go without the audience feeling any sense of connection or – often – even learning their names. The set pieces are impressive but not iconic. And while it would be crass to suggest that a film’s success hinges on its one-liners, some snappy dialogue would undoubtedly have added to the ride.
Despite its flaws, Alien Covenant is still a wild ride. But where it wins – big time – is in its sheer, sweeping ambition. This is sci-fi writ large.
Covenant is a colony ship whose crew are woken early after a neutrino burst damages their power cells. Picking up a strange signal, they discover that it originates from a planet that appears to be perfect for their needs. So, the seeds are set for another journey into terror.
The visuals are breath-taking and daring. In place of the usual wind-swept desolation, the crew find an apparent paradise ready for colonisation – green, fertile, but ominously silent. This is the Garden of Eden, complete with its own demons lurking in the twilight.
Michael Fassbender is superb as both David – now in full messianic mode – and his synthetic ‘brother’ Walter. The ensemble cast are charismatic and the decision to make crew couples adds a unexpected levels of tenderness and tension.
The script makes some nice links between the old and new Alien films, with a darkly ironic ‘alien origins’ reveal at the end. Like all the best science fiction there’s also much philosophising about life, death, and the meaning of it all. At one point David even throws in a quote from Blade Runner, which opens up some interesting possibilities for film-board discussions.
While Prometheus was criticised for its lack of alien action, Giger’s beastie, or at least its granddaddy, is present in its full necrotic-phallic glory. Yes, Covenant has a lot of blood, gore, and exploding bodies.
The downside to producing seminal films is that they become public property. Everyone has an opinion about what Scott should or shouldn’t do. Alien Covenant isn’t going to please everyone but that’s not a film-maker’s only job. Scott has said that he sees Alien as an ongoing story and what he delivers is the Rogue One of his own particular franchise. A film that fills in the gaps and wets your appetite for what comes next.
But at the end of the day, it’s all about the spectacle and Covenant is a distillation of Scott’s 40+ years in the business. Do see this at the IMAX if you can.