From director Ridley Scott comes the next entry in his “Alien” prequel series, “Alien: Covenant”, a highly anticipated sci-fi epic of sorts that continues the legacy of the most celebrated sci-fi horror film franchise of all time. There was a lot for this film to live up to in bringing its source material back to its former glory, and while “Covenant” is not the greatest of the “Alien” films, it’s a breath of fresh air in an otherwise tired and worn out property.
“Alien: Covenant” picks up where 2012’s “Prometheus” left off with a colony ship making its way through space ten years after the now infamous Prometheus went missing. After an in-space incident forces the crew of the ship, called the Covenant, to be awoken by synthetic Walter, an upgraded successor to the previous film’s David, and causes the death of several sleeping colonists and the ship’s captain the crew repairs the ship and discovers a nearby livable planet. Believing this could be a much closer, and more fitting, paradise for their colony to live on they set out to explore the planet, coming across the titular aliens and learn the fate of the “Prometheus” ship. As the story progresses, the origin of the Xenomorphs as we know them today is revealed and the crew of the Covenant becomes the alien’s first real human prey.
“Covenant” features a star-studded cast including Michael Fassbender, reprising his role at David from “Prometheus” and David’s successor Walter, Katherine Waterston as the lead female character Daniels Branson, Billy Crudup as first mate turned captain Christopher Oram, Danny McBride as pilot Tennessee, and numerous other lesser known names filling in the crew of the Covenant. Immediately it should be pointed out that this film falls into a bit of a rut when it comes to managing its extensive cast of characters. The ones I named above, well those are pretty much the only ones you’re going to even care about for most of the film as one by one crew members are picked off by the famed aliens and their evolutionary predecessors, the Neomorphs. Unlike previous entries in the “Alien” franchise, this cast is rather unfortunately forgettable with about 75 percent of the cast pretty much there to play victim to the alien we all came to see and while the film does try to create a few character-building moments, there’s a lot to be desired in the way of character depth for most of the cast. At times it can be hard to be invested in the losses this crew is facing as many of the crew members are pretty much disposable extras there for a bit of glorious bloodshed.
That’s not to say this film lacks quality acting. The death scenes and sheer terror of each victim is presented perfectly as these characters portray a sense of confusion, frustration, and hopelessness in the face of a monster they don’t really understand and never expected. Fassbender is to be commended for his portrayal of two characters that, in essence, are two sides of the same coin. He presents much of the moral conflict this movie has to offer as we see both David and Walter embracing different ideologies about man and the fate of the human species as well as the existence, or even the benefit, of the alien Xenomorphs. To that end his two synthetics embody almost all of the deeper messages contained within a two-hour kill fest.
Katherine Waterston holds her own as the female lead, possessing a sense of vulnerability along with a sense of leadership and a will to fight that sets her apart from characters like Ellen Ripley and allows her to stand on her own. While you can make comparisons between Daniels and Ripley, Waterston does well to embody the same empowered woman stereotype without trying to hard to live up to the standards of her iconic predecessor, or successor in the case of the actual “Alien” timeline. She could very well be the leading female protagonist of the prequel series and if so she set a great standard for herself and her fellow cast mates to match in future installments.
Of course “Covenant” is first and foremost a sci-fi horror film at its core and isn’t meant to be taken very seriously, and it has some huge shoes to fill after “Alien 3”, “Alien: Resurrection” and “Prometheus” all side tracked the series. It really is a return to form, bringing the series back to its roots with impressive scares, great creature design, a more conservative and held-back approach to the violence and suspense, and graphic kills fitting of a great horror popcorn thriller. It’s entertaining to see the Xenomorphs back in action and to see their simple, yet creative origin as apex predators. It doesn’t offer much in the way of anything new for the franchise, but it does present the Xenomorphs in a more natural setting opposed to the spaceship violence we have seen in the past unless you consider the “Alien vs. Predator” films. What it does emulate from previous entires in the series it does to perfection, reminding us why we loved this franchise in the first place.
While “Alien: Covenant” fails to really provide any payoff with its diverse cast of characters and personalities, in the end we came to see people die and to see the aliens back in action and it is oh so sweet to see it play out on screen. While nothing special in terms of the “Alien” franchise as a whole, it’s right up there with “Alien” and “Aliens” as the best films in this celebrated series that defined a subgenre and helped redefine what it means to feel fear in the movie theater. This film could have easily fallen into the black hole of franchise fatigue, but it manages to hold its own and makes for a worthy and fun viewing experience for fans of the franchise or anyone just looking for a great sci-fi adventure to compliment “Guardians 2” to start off the summer of 2017.