Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride
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Review by Josh Teggert.
There have been several abysmal entries into the Alien series since Ridley Scott’s 1979 film created a horror franchise like no other. Even Scott’s return to the director’s chair in 2012’s Prometheus polarised hard-core fans and casual moviegoers alike. Thus, hopes for Alien: Covenant were naturally high – the impressively intimidating promotional material furthering this – and many expected Covenant to mark a triumphant return to form for the Alien series.
However, rather sadly, there is precious little to praise about this lacklustre, re-hashed bundle of disappointment.
Without a doubt, Michael Fassbender is the best aspect of Covenant, as was the case with his universally praised performance in the otherwise divisive Prometheus. He returns as a twisted version of the android David, as well as newcomer Walter; an upgraded version of David following claims that his model was made to be “too human”. He plays each character with enamouring class, with some superbly executed one-to-one scenes with both of his respective androids – arguably the most enticing sections in the entire film.
But he is let down by a generally forgettable supporting cast and plot drive, using virtually identical plot devices as other Alien films. Covenant tries too hard to emulate the previous films’ successes – seen especially in Katherine Waterston’s flimsy Ripley rip-off – and culminates to form an almost unbearable re-skin of features that have been illustrated sufficiently before. This, added to a narrative with an often confused tone and a considerable momentum inconsistency, ruins the overall enjoyment of the picture. In addition, audiences are forced to trail through extensive passages of mind-numbingly dull dialogue, all in anticipation of witnessing the Xenomorph ruthlessly tear through this fundamentally expendable cast. When these moments finally arrive, there are some reasonably frightening death scenes with some suitably intimidating shots of the titular alien at the climax of the movie, as well as in its evolving forms earlier in the film (which is a fascinating sub-plot I would have loved to see further developed).
The aliens themselves are not quite what they were 40 years ago, though; the very fact that Scott can, and has, used CGI to make the alien more “realistic” sacrifices the elements of subtlety and menace on the most part. What made the beast so scary in the first film was its lack of prominent screen time, which effectuated a significant relationship between the audience and the characters; with both sets of people fearing what they cannot see. This is almost entirely absent in Covenant, as the consistent presence of the alien on screen leaves very little to the imagination, which was one of the greatest achievements of the original(s).
Scott proved with 2015’s The Martian that he is still a master of the sci-fi genre, which is why the constant decline in the quality of Alien films is truly disheartening. But with each passing prequel in this arguably decrepit franchise, audiences ultimately care less about it.