REVIEW: Alien: Covenant (2017)

Teaser Poster – 20th Century Fox

The following is a review of Alien: Covenant – Directed by Ridley Scott. For more Alien reviews, check out this category.

With 2012’s Prometheus and now with 2017’s Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott – the directorial ‘father’ of the Alien-franchise – has reclaimed ownership of the vastly popular horror-science fiction film series. Unfortunately, Prometheus wasn’t met with much praise from fans, and now – with Alien: Covenant – Ridley Scott is trying to appease the rapid fan-base while still dealing with the themes present in his first prequel. And although it does feel a little bit like a compromise, Covenant is nonetheless a fantastic film.

Alien: Covenant takes place ten years after the events of Prometheus, and the film follows the crew of the colony space ship the Covenant. The Covenant is on its way to Origae-6, where the crew are to awaken all passengers and start a colony. However, during a routine stop the Covenant is hit by a neutrino shockwave that kills multiple passengers including the Captain of the ship (played by James Franco).

While fixing the ship, the crew of the Covenant intercepts a transmission from a nearby planet. Even though the second-in-command – Daniels (played by Katherine Waterston) – objects to the idea, the new Captain – Oram (played by Billy Crudup) – decides to have a closer look at the planet, which seems perfectly habitable. Once on the surface of the planet, members of an expedition team are infected by alien spores and soon pale aliens burst out of their bodies. As chaos ensues, the expedition team is saved by a hooded individual who knows everything about the state of the planet and the life on it.

With Prometheus, Ridley Scott tried to tell a fresh and uniquely different story in the Alien-franchise. Prometheus was something that we hadn’t seen before in the franchise. Sure, it borrowed elements from other films in the series, but it walked a different path than the rest of the franchise. Alien: Covenant strays slightly from that same prequel path — most likely due to the reception that Prometheus received. Still, though, Ridley Scott hasn’t completely abandoned the ideas and characters that he introduced us to in Prometheus, and thus Alien: Covenant ultimately ends up feeling like a compromise in its attempt at returning to the gory horror of previous films in the franchise. But it is a riveting and interesting compromise.

Films in the series have had a tendency to tell the same story, and, yes, Alien: Covenant also does ‘ape’ the well-known stories of the franchise. Just like with Prometheus, Alien: Covenant includes some poor character decisions, and several of these new characters are unremarkable. The film teases us with very interesting background information about Oram, but ultimately doesn’t elaborate on his background enough. Katherine Waterston’s character is filled with grief for most of the film, but, sadly, doesn’t live up to the central female character of Prometheus. However, while it’s normal to worry about a comedy actor’s attempt to work in a much more serious environment, genre, and story, Danny McBride leaves a solid impression with his performance as one of the essential crew characters. He actually ended up being my favorite member of the crew.

In spite of the narrative compromise, Alien: Covenant is a great science-fiction horror film. The violence in this film is extreme and intense. It is a bleak film with powerful and thought-provoking themes. The otherworldly science-fiction locations are very impressive, and, at times, the film echoes gothic horror with its themes, buildings, and one of its characters. I was also very impressed with the new alien creatures presented in the film. Without saying too much, I ended up being more interested in the violence they caused, than the Xenomorph action in Alien: Covenant. However, I think it is a shame that the classic Xenomorph isn’t created via practical effects. I think that its scenes aren’t as scary as they could’ve been precisely because of its computer-generated design.

But the very best thing about Alien: Covenant – and of this there can be no doubt – is the performance delivered by Michael Fassbender who, once again, outshines any and all previous androids in the franchise. I would even go as far as to say that he has given the best performance ever seen in the Alien-franchise. Just like in Prometheus, Fassbender gets to work with an egocentric character that is fascinated with creation. The things Fassbender gets to do here may end up not working for the fans expecting ‘just another Alien movie,’ but it should please fans of Prometheus as well as fans of another popular Ridley Scott science-fiction film. There are clear, obvious, and satisfying references to Blade Runner in Alien: Covenant both with the very first shot of the film and a line of dialogue in a fascinating scene late in the film.

However, even though Ridley Scott has tried to steer the franchise in a better and also more audience-friendly direction with the inclusion of the classic Xenomorph, I think that this film will be as divisive as Prometheus was. Ultimately, huge fans of Prometheus may be upset that it is a narrative compromise, while those that dislike Prometheus may be upset by the answers within the film and the strong thematical ties to Prometheus.

Ultimately, I am happy to report that I strongly believe Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant is the third best film in the franchise. It satisfied my need to see extreme alien violence, while still elaborating on the most fascinating antagonist that the franchise has ever seen. It is a fascinating, riveting, and intense science-fiction horror prequel that actually makes this franchise exciting again.

9 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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