Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Dan O'Bannon (based on characters created by), Ronald Shusett (based on characters created by), Jack Paglen, Michael Green, John Logan, Dante Harper
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride
Ladies and gentleman, I am pleased to announce that Alien: Covenant marks the return to form of the great Alien sci-fi horror franchise (Breathes a major sigh of relief).
Ever since I first watched Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) as a young fifteen year old, this has been a world that has truly fascinated me. In essence, the plot is no more advanced than that of a typical B-movie, and yet, so brilliant was Alien that now, almost forty years on (and several movies later), audiences still turn up wanting to be simultaneously terrified and entertained by the Xenomorph.
The sequel, the imaginatively titled Aliens, arrived in 1986 and delivered exactly what it said on the tin – more Xenomorphs. James Cameron was this time at the helm and he opted to abandon the isolated, haunted house feel of the original and instead place the monster in a much grander war movie. The outcome was an equally brilliant picture that, while staying true to its predecessor, took the franchise in an exciting new direction and consolidated Cameron’s status as one of the world’s greatest directors.
The franchise subsequently struggled to live up to the dizzying heights of the first two instalments, however, with neither Alien3 (1992) nor Alien: Resurrection (1997) wowing audiences worldwide. After a bold, yet ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to merge the Alien universe with that of Predator, it looked as if the franchise was dead in the water. That was until Ridley Scott decided to return to the fold back in 2012.
Frustrated with how the series had stagnated in recent years, Scott sought to breathe new life into the franchise by taking it in a completely different direction. Prometheus (2012), a prequel to the series, would take a more philosophical approach – posing a variety of questions as a crew of scientists journeyed to a remote planet in the quest to discover who, or what, created mankind.
While billed as being of the Alien universe, but not a direct prequel to it, fans could not get past the absence of the Xenomorph (despite some related creatures briefly featuring). It was also felt that much of what makes an Alien film great had been lost in amongst the philosophical debate and a poor script – the pacing was off, not much happened and most of the characters were crap. Supposedly ‘world class’ scientists made pathetic, clichéd decisions before being dispatched in largely piss-poor fashion. Indeed, Rafe Spall (a brilliant actor who, if you get the chance to watch it, was truly fantastic in the 2011 series The Shadow Line) played a biologist who attempted to pet an aggressive-looking alien snake before it ate its way into his space suit and killed him by slithering down his throat.
Despite its considerable flaws, however, I liked how Prometheus had bravely embarked upon a new path, introducing the concept of there being a race of ‘Engineers’ who, having previously created us, had now decided humanity needed to be destroyed. The dark tone of the film was also appealing and so, a massive fan of the first two movies, I felt that there was still enough to keep me interested in another instalment.
Thankfully, Ridley Scott has listened to much of the criticism that was focussed on Prometheus and adapted Alien: Covenant accordingly. Not only is ‘Alien’ in the title this time, but it actually feels like you are watching an out and out Alien movie. Yes, there remains an abundance of philosophy, but it is balanced perfectly with the level of action, horror and suspense also provided. The pacing is better, the characters are better and, above all, there are Xenomorphs too (yes, plural!). As a result, Alien: Covenant steps up the dark tone of Prometheus considerably and ensures that you are deeply invested in what may well be the tensest two hours you will have experienced for quite some time.
Much to my delight, Michael Fassbender returns to the franchise, reprising his role as the mysterious android, David, as well as taking on the new role of Walter – a more modern android designed without many of David’s ‘personal’ flaws. Anyone who has ever watched Fassbender act will tell you that it is a travesty he has not yet won an Academy Award (look to his performance as the titular character in 2015’s Macbeth) and, again, he puts in (two) stellar performances this time around. The best character in Prometheus, Fassbender’s David keeps you guessing again and again, while Walter's more serious, methodical personality contrasts him brilliantly. The best scenes in the film are most certainly when these two versions of Fassbender are pitted against each other – although the twist in which they are involved in towards the end could have been handled much better.
Filming for the final instalment of Scott’s prequel trilogy, Alien: Awakening, is reportedly going to commence later this year (so expect a late 2018/early 2019 release date). Having seen Covenant, I can report that my enthusiasm for the Alien universe has been reinvigorated and I am very much looking forward to seeing what Scott next has in store for us. In the meantime, I am going to rewatch 1 and 2 and remind myself once again why I fell in love with this tremendous space horror.
In one line: Think about the best parts of Alien, Aliens and Prometheus and imagine you mash them all together – that’s how Ridley Scott has obviously dreamed up Alien: Covenant.