Movie Review: Alien Covenant

The space horror franchise finally gives viewers what they want

Alien Covenant
Directed by Ridley Scott
With Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Demián Bichir

Everyone's favorite space horror franchise is back on the right launch pad after. Alien Covenant gives the audience what it wants, and pushes the series narrative forward significantly.

The story picks up a few years after the events of Prometheus, which can be a bit of drawback. The plot of that film was so confusing that many viewers may have forgotten it completely. But once Alien Covenant gets going, some of the more crucial points of the previous episode are explained at least enough that the audience isn't fully at sea.

Alien Covenant takes place some decades before the original 1979 film Alien, which launched the series. Director Ridley Scott, who made the original, was back in the director's chair for both Prometheus and Alien Covenant.

Covenant is the name of a spaceship on a colonization mission. The opening act will be familiar to series fans, as it is almost a re-creation of how the series started. The crew is woken up early by the ship's computer, again called Mother, and they discover a nearby uncharted planet sending a signal. There are other similarities to Alien and its 1986 sequel Aliens, which fans of the series will spot.

Actor Michael Fassbender is back as a the crew's robot, called Walter, a different model than David in Prometheus but with the same face. A few other characters from Prometheus make brief appearances.

Other recent films have taken ideas from the Alien franchise, and unfortunately that leaves this new entry looking like a cross between Passengers, which had a malfunctioning colonization vessel, and Life, which featured a rogue alien life form battling a small crew. But Alien Covenant still scores as the most unsettling of the recent space horror films, and the best directed.

Alien Covenant, though, suffers in comparison to Alien and Aliens. Nobody has the charisma of Sigourney Weaver, who obviously does not appear in this episode. Katherine Waterston has the strongest female role as Daniels, a terraforming expert. She does pale in comparison to Weaver's character of Ripley, but that is one of the iconic performances of the 20th century so it is hard to beat it. Waterston, to her acting credit, didn't really try to mimic Weaver. She has a different, less aggressive approach to feminine strength and for her it works.

The series keeps up with its vision of space as an unforgiving place, and of spaceships as grim industrial architecture, rather than the bright shopping mall seen in Passengers. The futuristic technology of the original 1979 film now seems very quaint and retro. The new film, as it comes before Alien, tries to keep that old school look as much as possible, while still being credible.

In all horror films, people do stupid things that put themselves and others in danger. Alien Covenant has no end of poor decisions poorly made. One groaner early on is that people go wandering around with no protective safety gear, as if they are taking a hike in a national park and not exploring a planet that could be filled with any number of diseases and threats. The recent film Life had the same problem. A few safety precautions in either film could have saved a lot of lives. But who would want to see a film where a clever crew narrowly avoided encountering aliens?

Michael Fassbender stands out among the cast, but the reasons why are closely related to the secrets of the plot. He is memorable though as robot struggling with his position as a nonhuman. Billy Crudup as a person driven by his religious faith also stands out in the ensemble cast. He finds himself at odds with not only the aliens but also the other crew members, who don't share his visions or convictions.

The Alien franchise had run out of steam, and the less said about the Alien versus Predator films the better. Prometheus also divided the series' fans, and wasn't what viewers really wanted. With Alien Covenant the series is back in fine form, and there is room left for a few more films before the timeline catches up with the ill-fated voyage of Nostromo. Director Ridley Scott said the next film will cover events between Prometheus and Alien Covenant, and the series could have five more films after that.

There are two short films on Youtube directed by Ridley Scott that bridge the gap between the two films, if you care to watch them first. They don't really contain big spoilers and add some character development.

Video on YouTube

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