Release date: 12th May 2017/Watch the trailer here
The following review contains minor spoilers.
Don’t let the ‘Alien’ in the title fool you – while Covenant is intended to act as a prequel to Ridley Scott’s much-loved Alien, it’s a lot closer to being a sequel to Scott’s far less popular other prequel, Prometheus. Set ten years later and onboard a colony ship of the same name, Covenant follows the ship’s crew, who divert their planned route (headed to remote planet Origae-6 with the intention of colonising it) following a strange radio transmission from a nearby uncharted planet. This decision to scrap their original route is the first of many idiotic ones to follow from the supposedly intelligent crew, captained by Billy Crudup’s Christopher Oram and including terraforming expert Daniels (Katherine Waterston), chief pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride) and Walter (Michael Fassbender), a synthetic android and a newer model of Prometheus’ David.
Upon arriving at the source of the transmission, Oram, Daniels and Walter lead an expedition to the surface, while Tennessee and a handful of other crew members remain in orbit on the Covenant. It doesn’t take long for the expedition to discover that the source of the mysterious transmission came from an Engineer ship, once piloted by Elizabeth Shaw (another character from Prometheus). Meanwhile, two security team members find themselves inadvertently infected with alien spores, and – after another series of idiotic decisions – there is soon blood spurting, aliens bursting out of places where they shouldn’t be (e.g., one unfortunate man’s spine, in a particularly stomach-churning scene) and general chaos, until the team are rescued by none other than the android David.
Fassbender, in his double performance, is far and away the best part of the otherwise largely disappointing Alien: Covenant. Walter and David may look identical, but Fassbender plays them just differently enough for it to be clear which is which, all the while maintaining the unsettling sense of being not-quite human. Ridley Scott has undoubtedly begun to realise that Facehuggers and Xenomorphs are no longer all that frightening, and the aliens are now more like bystanders (bloody, gory bystanders) to Covenant’s true villain: David – and Fassbender is far creepier than anything else in this film, while at the same time being utterly magnetic and impossible to look away from.
The same can’t be said for the rest of the crew, who, aside from those mentioned previously, are never really developed enough for us to care much about their fates. Unsurprisingly, McBride as Tennessee is the most likeable crew member by far; and although Waterston is at the centre of one of the best action sequences in the entire film, Ellen Ripley she is not. Most of the crew are supposed to be either married to each other or at least friendly, yet none of them ever manage to achieve the same level of chemistry as Fassbender does with himself.
Even so, Alien: Covenant isn’t a bad film. It’s a perfectly passable piece of sci-fi horror, with some rare moments of truly stunning cinematography and all of the aliens, violence and gore that you could possibly want from an Alien movie (and then some, with one of the worst offenders being the shower scene that was apparently only included to act as an attention-grabber for the trailer). Frustratingly, though, it doesn’t work very well as part of a larger franchise – particularly one which has proven itself to be so great in the past. Covenant may answer many of the questions that Prometheus left us with, but for every question answered there’s another one raised. The plot (or lack thereof) is paper-thin to the point that it seems like Covenant only exists to act as a bridge between Prometheus and whatever story that Scott has envisioned for the next chapter. The problem is, by that point, there’s a good chance that not very many people are going to care about it.