Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride
Running time: 123 minutes
Returning to the nether-regions of the universe, Ridley Scott’s latest Alien outing follows the crew of the Covenant – a spacecraft carrying two thousand colonists and a thousand embryos bound for the planet Origae-6, in the hope of starting a colony. Upon intercepting a seemingly rogue transmission from a closer, previously undetected planet, the crew venture in for a closer look, despite concerns from terraforming expert Daniels (Waterston). Their worst nightmares are soon realised when they meet David (Fassbender), a survivor of the disastrous Prometheus mission, as well as other unwelcoming organisms.
According to the Spotify ads (we can’t all afford Premium, guys), ‘this time, everyone will hear you scream.’ Pity then, that they can’t hear us sighing as well. Call me Xenomorph-obic, but the more recent sequels and prequels to Scott’s milestone original all just feel, well, rather samey. Rapidly becoming a stale and predictable money making scheme, the Alien franchise is increasingly feeling like, as we imagine space food to be, pre-packaged and re-heated.
As the sixth instalment – and a sequel to Prometheus – Alien: Covenant isn’t terrible, but it’s hardly memorable either. Rarely does it deviate too far from the well-trodden path of space slashers and face-huggers. While we begin with an exchange between David and his creator, a young Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) that takes prior to the events of Scott’s 2012 film, Covenant quickly establishes itself as something far more akin tonally and stylistically to its bigger, better 1979 brother. Jump to 10 years after Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) carried off David’s head into the vastness of space in search of answers, and we catch up with the crew of the Covenant as they awake from cryosleep. Tragedy soon strikes and as a result, we learn that it is Katherine Waterston’s Daniels who will be taking the Ripley reigns this time round – she’s more open about her emotions than Weaver’s protagonist, but never even close to being as memorable.
Things stay pretty bleak thereafter and, aside from our leading lady, there are only really three other crew members worth noting in a film of far, far too many characters. There’s first-mate Oram (Crudup) – a man of faith; cowboy hat-wearing, JD guzzling, aptly named chief pilot Tennessee (McBride); and obligatory synthetic android, Walter (also played by Fassbender). The rest are disposable, and are indeed disposed of rather quickly and regimentally when things begin to go all Pete Tong.
Thankfully, the action of Covenant takes place at such a relentless pace that we rarely have time to process or reflect on character death, depth, or the acid burning plot holes filled with unanswered questions – why does every character insist on going off everywhere alone? If David cannot age, then why does his hair grow? Will spaceship captains ever make rational, informed decisions? And did John Denver ever know how popular he was in space?
But perhaps the biggest question of all is whether Ridley Scott – the man of spectacle and creator of entire worlds – delivers on imagery and visuals. And the answer is both yes and no. The gore is ramped up substantially, and the phallic, reproductive metaphors return (there’s even a reference to “fingering”- but not in the way you’re all thinking). There are some nice, unexpected touches to admire, be it almost tangible Mary Shelley parallels, Alien’s very own Psycho rendition, or a bit of Fassbender on Fassbender interaction, violence, and intimacy. But, disappointingly there is an overwhelming sense that we’ve seen most of this before, with deeper themes of creation, dreams and loneliness frustratingly spelled out in dialogue, and set-pieces and kills rife with convention. On a planet harvesting earthly plant life, there is little organic produce here.
Harbouring very little of the claustrophobic discomfort of the original, Alien: Covenant is an upgrade on Prometheus, but is, for the most part, a blood-soaked lesson on how to recycle. If the criteria for naming the two most recent films in the franchise are anything to go by, here’s hoping the next crew find themselves aboard the United Airlines – so that they get forcefully removed pretty quickly.