Alien: Covenant Movie Review: Ridley Scott Returns to the Bloody Basics

Although it recycles a lot from the previous films, Alien: Covenant is still a gorgeously shot, thrilling sci-fi feature.
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More than 30 years after he terrified us with Alien, Ridley Scott returned to the franchise with Prometheus, a film that proved to be more ambitious than fans of the sci-fi franchise were expecting. Sure, it had the origins aspect that fans were expecting, but a lot of the Alien prequel side of the film felt subtle to the exploration of life and creation of man on which Scott ended up focusing. The result was a film that was divisive amongst the Alien fan base, and even Scott admitted recently that he was going in the wrong direction with Prometheus.

Personally, I don’t think he was. While Prometheus is far from great, it was nice to see Ridley Scott back in the sci-fi saddle again after a 30-year hiatus (1982’s Blade Runner was the last science fiction film he directed before Prometheus). It was also nice to see the different direction in which he was taking the franchise.

With the mixed reaction to Prometheus, Scott has decided to return to the older methods of the Alien franchise, and that’s where Alien: Covenant comes into play. It mostly scraps the philosophical aspect and cranks the violence up to 11. There is certainly more xenomorph action here, and some aliens that burst out of other places than a human’s chest. Yes, it does answer a lot of questions that were left over from Prometheus, but it also creates new ones that may get answered if another film is made. Scott has stated that he plans on working on two more films in this franchise.

Alien: Covenant begins with what looks like might continue down the same path as Prometheus, as we see the synthetic that has eerily realistic human qualities, David (Michael Fassbender), talking to his creator, Peter Weyland (an uncredited Guy Pearce). It’s an intriguing moment, and one that is breathtakingly shot. We’re reminded how great both actors can be, especially Fassbender. His performance in Prometheus wasn’t necessarily a breakthrough, since he had done X-Men: First Class the previous year. But it was yet another one that showed how sinister and creepy he can make any character.

The film then flash forwards to 2401, 10 years after the events of Prometheus, as we follow a colony ship known as Covenant - which is transporting 2,000 people to Origae-6 to start a new life. After suffering sudden loss in the early stages of the film, the crew is not quite as ecstatic about the continuing trip, since it’s going to take them several years to reach their destination. But when they get word of a closer location, one that has breathable air and is also more suitable for human living, they alter course and decide to set up at this new location. The only problem is that this planet, which looks safe on the outside, is filled with alien life forms that begin feasting on the crew.

A lot of people have already stated that Katherine Waterston, who plays the acting executive officer known as Daniels in Alien: Covenant, has some connection to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from the original franchise, or that she is the prequel franchise’s Ripley. There are certainly elements of Ripley in Daniels, but Waterston doesn’t quite have the same depth and ferocity as Ripley did - especially in Aliens, for which Weaver earned an Oscar nomination. Waterston is fine for what she’s given, but I’m not quite ready to hold her up to the same pedestal as Weaver.

If anything, the prequel series has been more of a show for Fassbender than Waterston or Noomi Rapace before her. Here, not only does he reprise his role as David, but he also plays another android named Walter, who is travelling with the Covenant crew. David is found to be living on the planet the crew decides to call home. The two droids eventually meet, and, without getting into too many spoilers, their interactions are among the juiciest of the bunch. Some of the dialogue has pretty obvious sexual connotations that, if said by anyone else, might come across as cheesy. Given to Fassbender, he takes it and runs with it. His grin indicates that he’s enjoying this role as much as we enjoy watching him play it.

Whenever Fassbender is doing double duty on screen, Alien: Covenant is an absolute blast. Not that the rest of the movie isn’t, but Fassbender owns this movie through and through. Scott gives the actor ample screen time to work with both David and Walter, but, unfortunately, he also underutilizes the rest of the cast involved.

The one exception, aside from Fassbender, is Danny McBride, the person many least expect to deliver a good, dramatic performance. He’s known mostly for his comedic work, and here, he gets in just enough to make us connect to his character, Tennessee. It’s not a tour de force performance, but he’s able to showcase the fact that he can do more than play Kenny Powers or some Judd Apatow-created character. I wouldn’t mind seeing him take on more dramatic work.

The special effects are more CGI than they are practical, and some of the chestbursters don’t look quite as effective as what was shown in the first two Alien films. The neomorphs, the new aliens that appear here, are some vicious creatures, though, and seeing them in action is tense and exciting. The effects on the xenomorphs are slick and gnarly-looking as well, even though I would prefer to see more practical-looking creatures.

I can’t say Alien: Covenant is a perfect movie, but, at the same time, I had a total blast watching it. In some sense, it’s like a blend of Prometheus and the first two Alien movies. It’s certainly more action-packed than its predecessor, but it also feels like Scott is going over a lot of the same territory that’s already been covered. It doesn’t quite carry the same level of tension that Scott’s 1979 film or Cameron’s 1986 sequel, but, for an Alien film, it’s a solid entry. 

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