Director – Ridley Scott
Cast – Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby, Uli Latukefu, Tess Haubrich, Lorelei King, Goran D. Kleut, Andrew Crawford, Javier Botet, Guy Pearce, Naomi Rappace, James Franco
Release Year – 2017
Reviewed by John of the Dead
In the seven days since its release, Ridley Scott’s sequel to Prometheus / prequel to Alien has already become the genre’s most controversial film of recent day. This isn’t due to Scott pushing the limits with grotesque acts or inflammatory material. No, this is due to the infighting taking place amongst Alien fans over what he is doing with the lore and mythos he created. Prometheus was not a hit with all of the fans, but the majority feels as I do – it’s a good movie and an engaging intro to how the universe’s perfect killing machine was created. Alien: Covenant improves on that by giving fans the payoff we desired from Prometheus and setting up catastrophic events to come.
10 years after the events of Prometheus the crew of 15 onboard the Covenant are prematurely awoken from cryosleep when a neutrino burst hits the ship, killing their captain and some of the colonists they are transporting. Their mission is to colonize the remote planet Origae-6 with two thousand colonists and one thousand second-generation embryos. When they intercept a human message from a nearby-uncharted planet, they are surprised to see it will not only sustain organic life, but provides superior conditions in comparison to Origae-6. With Origae-6 over seven years away, their new captain decides to investigate the nearby planet with a recon mission. Upon their arrival they very quickly learn that this paradise is home to a dark and imposing alien life-form. With their crew dwindling away at the hands of horrors they never expected, they must rely on the help of the only survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition – the synthetic android David.
This continuation of Ridley Scott’s prequel trilogy brings new writers, making this a film in a very different vein than its predecessor. Credited with Penny Dreadful (TV), Spectre, and Skyfall, writer John Logan and first-timer Dante Harper kick things into gear from the get-go with the neutrino burst leaving the tight group of colonists without their leader and awoken 7 years too soon. The discovery of the nearby planet with dreamier atmospheric conditions is a tempting find, and it is only natural that they would brave a recon mission to an uncharted world that mysteriously never showed up on previous scout missions. Not everyone is OK with abandoning the course, but to the powers that be the quick look is surely worth the risk. The planet is gloomy yet lush and sub-tropical. To their surprise, there seems to be a lack of wildlife. There are no noises or chiming birds coming from the endless jungle. There is a reason for that, and they find out surprisingly quick for a 120-minute film.
Alien: Covenant brings a larger cast than Prometheus, and I was pleased overall with how the writers employed these characters. We learn within the first few minutes of the film that nobody is above being killed off, and that was the case as the story grew. I was glad to see that characters I liked, and characters I assumed were serving lead roles, were killed off to the surprise of everyone in the theater. To compliment this, Scott filmed these scenes in gore-fueled, full-frontal fashion. This forces the viewer to remain on their toes throughout the film, as there are surely no safe spaces on this planet, or in space. With character developments leaving you unsure of who will step up to the plate, you can rest assured that Michael Fassbender’s characters, David and his improved clone, Walter, will steal the show. Walter is the android assigned to the Covenant crew, and he joins his cohorts in their expedition to the uncharted planet. His dealings with David range from intrigue, to education, and to violence. I have heard negative remarks that the androids take too strong of a role with this film. I do not harbor the same feelings, as both David and Walter not only complimented the story but they fueled the horror. Also, this is a sophomore film in a trilogy, and said naysayers are speaking like there isn’t another film coming. I can’t go into too much detail without giving away some major spoilers, but let’s just say that David takes on a much more sinister role here. The work he did in Prometheus with the alien species will be compounded here, eventually giving us the universe’s ultimate killing machine.
I could go on and on with the story, but it’s time to talk about the horror. Ridley Scott upped the ante by giving us much more gore than I ever would have expected, and doing so without shying away from the goods. We see chests burst open, heads fly, bodies impaled, and a steamy shower scene delivering goosebumps even though you knew it was coming. I think it is now common knowledge (in the genre at least) that we are finally going to see the xenomorph here, and Scott’s execution of this process is incredible. What starts as the black liquid created by the Engineers evolves into several new species of aliens. The neomorph was my favorite of the two, and its bipedal stature made it terrifying for me. In fact, I was more afraid of the neomorph than the xenomorph in this picture. Much like with Prometheus, Scott uses a blend of practical effects for close ups and CGI for impractical scenes. I was impressed with the CGI as it did not have a negative effect on the film. Time and time again such effects have ruined films for me. Thankfully, Ridley Scott not only knows how to use it, but the CGI itself was phenomenal. Scott employed actors in suits for the practical scenes, and I was surprised to see Javier Botet in an uncredited role. If you are unfamiliar of who he is, he is the Spanish actor who portrayed Nina Medeiros in the REC films, and most recently, the Crooked Man in The Conjuring 2. His genetic condition (Marlan syndrome) has left him immensely skinny, making him the perfect fit for the roles he portrays.
Scott’s direction on every other front was just as great, with amazing atmosphere and as expected, immersive sets. The bulk of the film takes place on the Earth-like planet, which was adorned with overcast and its lush environment makes for a predator’s paradise. Most of the sets were built on a sound stage, but the initial scenes taking place on the planet were filmed in New Zealand. While on the planet our leads are forced to take refuge in the city built by the Engineers, and Scott does well in providing dark shadowy corners for terror to hide. Regardless of where the story is, Scott managed to captivate me with his immense sets. The acting performances are great, and as expected Michael Fassbender steals the show. While he portrays two cloned androids they are each with their own personality traits. Walter is the moral one, and that is by no means a weakness. He can throw down. David continues his previous work and in doing so loses what little humanity he had. It was obvious in Prometheus that he was a special android, and that will lead to the demise of his creators via his own creation. Catherine Waterson is the eventual female lead and thanks to her filming of Fantastic Beasts she dons a hairdo similar to Ellen Ripley’s in Alien. Danny McBride eventual takes on a lead role, and much to my surprise he was not used in his typical type casted way. He is still Danny McBride, but his role is not comedic and I was glad to see that.
Lastly, many will want to know why Elizabeth Shaw (Naomi Rappace) was not brought back for this sequel. She does make an appearance, and it is one you won’t see coming. There are several other unannounced characters that Scott treated us to, including Guy Pearce as a young Peter Weyland and a very small cameo from James Franco.
I can’t help but think to myself where this film falls in the franchise, and to me I feel this is the third best behind Alien and Aliens. It is an improvement on Prometheus, and is surely better than Fincher’s disowned Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, and AVP. As expected, the naysayers will nit pick at what Covenant got wrong more than what it got right. As a whole, this is a great film that should please the majority of Alien fans while leaving the fringe ones scrounging for something not to like. It doesn’t take the franchise in new directions because it doesn’t need to. This is building up to Alien, not a spinoff of Alien in a separate universe.
Overall, Alien: Covenant is a solid installment to the Alien franchise and the sequel we needed after Prometheus. Ridley Scott wins here with great horror, good gore, expert direction, and an engaging story that gives core fans what we want to see.
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