Man! Ridley Scott really wants to relive his youth, doesn’t he?
Two trips back to the Alien franchise. A return to the Blade Runner universe. What next? Legend 2: Electric Boogaloo? (which, to be fair, I would watch the s**t out of)
Yes, I wasn’t a fan of Prometheus. But I’ve always had faith in the Ridley. (though said faith was severely tested with The Counselor.) Is Alien Covenant his return to form?
Set in 2104, 10 years after the events of Prometheus, a colonisation ship by the name of Covenant carries over 2000 people to their new home on a remote planet called Origae-6.
But on the way they discover an unusual signal emitting from what seems like a lifeless planet. Intriguingly the signal seems to be human in origin, so Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) gives the order to send a team down to the planet; despite the strong objections from his second-in-command: Daniels (Katherine Waterston)
Let just say that decision may not have been the best idea…
It’s to be expected that there be a certain amount of the Alien formula retained in each sequel: The plucky female protagonist, the mechanical failures, the loss of communications and the onset of extremely drooly sudden death syndrome.
Fortunately Scott uses every bit of his 40 year experience (as well as an excellent script from John Logan and Dante Harper) to create a sense of mystery and intrigue through a plot-line that might be considered by some to be a well trodden cliche.
One thing I do have to applaud this film for is acknowledging the events of Prometheus, and yet not allowing said events to hold it back in pursuit of a new story-line. In fact the best part of Prometheus returns in the robotic form of Michael Fassbender.
Clearly fascinated by the nature of Fassbender’s android, Scott gives him a significantly increased screen-time (which explains the top billing!); and my god does he use it. Pontificating like a cocaine fulled Donald Trump, Fassbender manages to blend almost God-like pomposity with the creep factor of Hal 9000.
If anything Fassbender overshadows the actual protagonist of the piece in Katherine Waterston’s Daniels who; while likable, is essentially a carbon copy of Ripley. Instead I found the character of Tennessee (Danny McBride) to be a far more engaging individual, and occasionally made me wish that it was he leading the bulk of the story.
There is one, almost genius, aspect to the story-line, and that is the decision to have the majority of the crew made up of couples. Because of this, character actions that we may have originally considered idiotic now feel more a result of desperation mixed with the desire to protect.
Indeed having couples means the film doesn’t need to work as hard to establish each character. By allowing us to experience loss through the eyes of the person that loved them the most allows us a connection that may have otherwise been invisible without padding the overall running time.
Having said that there is an aspect to the film that somewhat ruins what I felt made the Alien films unique and interesting. The first three Alien films were a grand example of how we as a species were just small insignificant specks in an otherwise frightening and unexplored universe.
Humanity was comfortable in its belief that they held domain over space and nature. But Alien (and its sequels) made it clear that there were things that humanity did not understand. Entire species and races beyond our comprehension.
Covenant (and to be fair Prometheus too) essentially takes a gigantic dump on that subtext by making humanity the central aspect of the Alien mythology. Not longer are we the men, but we are the Gods to which the universe revolves around. And from a storytelling point of view, that is as grand a disappointment as you can get.
While a massive step up from Prometheus, and the best Alien film since 1986’s Aliens, it’s hard not to feel a sense of déjà vu in the journey of the Covenant and its crew. Thankfully a strong visual eye from Ridley Scott and a powerful central performance from Michael Fassbender makes said journey run smoother than it would have under lesser souls.