Out this week in cinemas is the sequel to Prometheus and the next prequel in the Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant. Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride and Demián Bichir Alien: Covenant follows a crew of colonists who are on their way to a new Earth. The intrepid crew has been tasked with safeguarding a precious cargo, 2000 colonists and several hundred embryos, the last remnants of the human race. On their way to their new home, the Covenant (their vessel) is hit by an unexpected galactic phenomenon that causes several casualties and almost destroys the Covenant itself. After repairing the damage and mourning the dead, the crew happens across a signal that leads them to a planet that seems perfect to colonise. What awaits them on this planet is something terrifying, hungry and familiar.
What stands out about Alien: Covenant is one shining, terrifying and captivating element: Michael Fassbender. He brings such an incredible presence to his dual roles of new synthetic android Walter and old favourite David. If you’ve seen Prometheus you’ll already have a prior knowledge of the inner workings of David, and when you see Walter all those feelings of distrust and fear will return, but Fassbender makes it his business to ensure these two characters are as different as night and day. David is, unfortunately, part of the problem with Alien: Covenant because he is such a fascinating and distressing figure in the film that the “terrifying” xenomorphs take a backseat to his schemes. Alien: Covenant is less a movie about xenomorphs and more a story about the genuinely frightening machinations of a creature that was created by man. It’s a shame really because the xenomorphs are the titular monsters and yet only a third of the film’s terror comes from them. Yes, they deliver the expected levels of gore and violence, once or twice even going above and beyond those levels to explosive effect, but that’s not what is attractive about the xenomorphs. It’s the fact that they are smart, that they know when to strike and that there is almost nothing that can stop them and in Alien: Covenant they become simple tools losing any mystique they once held.
I hate to say this, but Ridley Scott almost goes full Lucas in his exploration of the origin of the xenomorphs. Like Darth Vader, the frightening Knight of the Sith, the xenomorphs don’t need to be dissected and given a creator. It lessens them and turns them from a monstrous elemental force into a tool for someone else’s curiosity, and this is not the only problem with the villains, but to reveal some of the later issues with the villains would spoil the final act of Alien: Covenant. Compounding this issue is a fluctuating level of CGI, the various xenomorph forms we are treated to in Alien: Covenant look terrible. There is one particular scene that has a xenomorph popping out of someone, and it looks s**t and if that wasn’t infuriating enough the xenomorph smiles.
Now on the aspect of the human characters, the cast do their best to help us care about their wellbeing with decent performances from Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, and Katherine Waterston. Waterston is a particular highlight, as her character Daniels has an unspoken bond with Walter (Fassbender) which is touching. Visually Alien: Covenant is a gorgeous film, the planet the crew of the Covenant land on is disturbingly beautiful. The dense forests, winding caverns, and ancient citadel are fascinating and clearly a loving visual homage to H.R Giger the artist who designed the iconic design of the xenomorphs all those years ago. The score as well adds to the frightening atmosphere with a haunting melody which perfectly compliments the visual aesthetic that Scott is going for in Alien: Covenant.
Ultimately Alien: Covenant is a fascinating film with one of the best villains I’ve seen in recent history sadly it’s not the terrifying xenomorphs who have been relegated to minions in their franchise. On top of this Scott gets in his own way with some unnecessarily pretentious dialogue. Thankfully with such a gripping and alarming ending I can’t help but think the good outweighs the bad and a sequel to Alien: Covenant is something I’m personally looking forward to. All I ask Mr. Scott is this; please make your infamous Aliens frightening again.