Alien: Covenant

Prometheus, the last Alien film, was terrible. There was so much expectation around it. Ridley Scott, the creator of the original film, was returning to the franchise after thirty three years to tell some of the much speculated back story and to give us another thrillingly terrifying, grubby, oily science fiction adventure. As it was though the film was full of characters doing the most ridiculous things and while it looked pretty it barely made a lick of sense. (Essentially it was a movie full of people touching and playing with things that were absolutely guaranteed to kill them. It was the equivalent of a zombie film where everyone tries constantly to hug the undead rather than run away or decapitate them. Seriously, it makes all those 70s slasher movies where the girls run upstairs to inescapable bedrooms in an attempt to escape the killer look like The Shawshank Redemption.) In fact it became quickly obvious that Ridley Scott was not the true creator of the original film at all, the credit better going to writer Dan O’Bannon and concept artist Hans Rudolf Giger. Scott put the thing together but doing a jigsaw puzzle of the Mona Lisa does not make you Leonardo da Vinci.

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The good news is that Alien: Covenant, also directed by Scott, is better. Remarkably it also improves Prometheus giving some of that film’s weak plotting some justification. It still isn’t great, it certainly doesn’t compare to the early Alien films but it ranks significantly higher that its predecessor (this time it’s four). I’d put it alongside the better Underworld films in terms of quality; it creates an interesting mythology and plays with its ideas well enough but there is nothing ground breaking going on. To be honest, by returning to these films Ridley Scott is doing a bit of a George Lucas and chipping away at his legacy. Fortunately, as was the case with Star Wars, with a really smart update it can be saved. The Martian showed that with a strong script Ridley Scott can still do impressive things. The man started in advertising and if he has a good product he can still sell it. Alien: Covenant shows promise.

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The film follows on around ten years after Prometheus and the crew of another Weyland corporation spaceship are on the way to populate a new planet with the company standard robot on-board. Across these films as many of this firm’s androids have been valuable allies as have catastrophically malfunctioned and there is some suspense in finding out which way this one, played by Michael Fassbender, is going to go. Fairly soon though they link up with the now miraculously repaired bot from the last film, also played by Michael Fassbender, and we already know his screws are loose. Much of the movie echoes what we’ve seen before but with new twists, for example the beasties don’t just burst out of chests anymore, but there are some interesting turns of events. 

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The rest of the ship’s staff are headed up by Katherine Waterston, her Fantastic Beasts costar Carmen Ejogo, Billy Crudup and Danny McBride. Needless to say the crew is smaller at the end of the film than it is at the beginning. On the announcement of Danny McBride’s casting some people who have not enjoyed the comedies he and his regular collaborators have made expressed hope that they may get to see him meet a grizzly end. I’m not giving anything away but people who didn’t enjoy Pineapple Express, This is the End and Sausage Party may find some satisfaction in the opening minutes.

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The Ripley Factor:

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An Alien film without the Ripley Factor would actually be unforgivable. All of them have had strong female leads, even those without Ripley. (I’m not including the Alien v Predator movies in this.) Katherine Waterston does not let the side down and crucially behaves in a rationale manner all the way through. There is even a point when she is brought up to speed on some of the plot from Prometheus and she responds by saying that it doesn’t make sense so I knew I could side with her. She is definitely strong but she is also endearingly vulnerable which adds to her appeal. She also doesn’t strip down to tiny pants at any point and this is something that can’t be said of Ripley herself.

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There is nudity in the film elsewhere but the scene involves too much blood and screaming to be sexy.

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Is this one for the kids?

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Alien: Covenant isn’t particularly scary, which is a disappointment, and there isn’t a great deal of tension. On one occasion a character actually describes an action beat right before it plays out on screen which was odd. The film is quite gruesome though and even though the Alien’s method of birth is not as shocking as it was with John Hurt back in 1979 it is all still quite visceral. It earns its 15 certificate.

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There are at least two more of the prequel films promised and based on this the calibre of the movies is slowly moving toward Alien just as the narrative is. Like the eponymous unidentified life form, once again I’m on board.

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