Hide. Pray. Run. The ad campaign for Alien: Covenant enforced the strict message that it’s much closer in spirit and tone to Ridley Scott’s Alien. It pretty much screamed to you: “Forget Prometheus!” The 2012 franchise relaunch, for all its faults, remains the stronger work.
It might have disappointed many, but the sense of wonderment and paleo-contact themes provided the mythology with a much-needed new direction. If the tantalising promise of exploring the origins of the malevolent ‘Star Beast’ was left unfulfilled to a satisfactory level, it’s arguable that Prometheus at least tried to do things a bit differently. What audiences really wanted was another Alien film with facehuggers, chest-bursting xenomorphs roaming poorly lit corridors and a bunch of humans succumbing to gory deaths one by one.
If Alien: Covenant is little more than fan service (You want xenomorphs? You got it, buddy!), it at least gets it right. But gripes persist relating to narrative logic, plot holes the size of Hellas Planitia and dumb characterisation. Yet because Scott has cranked up the action and blood-and-guts to such delicious levels of spectacle, issues will either be politely ignored or more easily forgiven than they were last time around. Let’s not pretend they don’t exist. Set ten years after Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and sneaky android David (Michael Fassbender) journeyed beyond the stars, in search of the engineers’ home world, the crew of colony ship Covenant, are prematurely woken by a solar storm en route to an Earth-like planet.
The group pick up an eerie signal which piques their interest enough to sod getting back into hyper-sleep for another seven years and carrying on with their mission. A series of poor decisions eventually leads the Covenant team up proverbial shit creek straight to xenomorph central. As a return to the dark, primal and transgressive terrors of the original movie, Alien: Covenant is a success. It’s also extraordinarily beautiful in a bleak way; a film painted as if in charcoal: all dull light, primordial dank, void-like shadows and jet-black blood, which occasionally sparkles iridescent when captured by torchlight.
Amongst an excellent ensemble cast, Danny McBride, Amy Seimetz, Katherine Waterston and Fassbender shine. David’s progression from servant to sneaky bugger, from mad scientist to avenging god, is enjoyable to a point, but a word of caution. The character is in clear and present danger of becoming a cheesy Hannibal Lecter type, programmed with a cache of droll quips (“Don’t let the bedbugs bite…”) and the audience expected to revel in him being an absolute shit. Whether intended or not, Fassbender’s performance is curiously reminiscent of Ernest Thesiger’s camp boffin in Bride of Frankenstein. It’s a direction that will likely be indulged further if the other proposed films in the series are made.
Alien: Covenant is now available to see in IMAX in cinemas nationwide. aliencovenanttickets.co.uk
Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn