Stars: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup
Released: 12th May 2017 (UK)
Reviewer: Van Connor
You could doubtless fill a book in chronicling the story of 1992’s Alien 3 and it’s various iterations, but it’s a book that would gain a new chapter these twenty-five years later with the arrival of franchise prequel (and Prometheus sequel) Alien: Covenant. Covenant, you see, takes its initial plot movement from one of Alien 3’s more interesting aborted premises. The resulting film – while far less noteworthy than what would become David Fincher’s divisive threequel – best described as a greatest hits package of franchise days gone by given a glossy post-Prometheus pseudo-philosophical sheen.
Set ten years on from Ridley Scott’s high-profile return to the series, the crew of the titular ship find themselves awoken prematurely from cryosleep when an unpredicted neutrino burst from a nearby star irrevocably damages key systems. With two thousand sleeping colonists and a nursery of human embryos onboard – in addition to a further seven years of interstellar travel – the discovery of a previously unknown planet capable of supporting human life seems almost too good to be true. But when the crew of the Covenant arrive to check out their potential new home, they quickly discover – to their peril – that paradise comes with xenomorphic dark side.
On the one hand, Covenant’s a perfectly adequate Alien sequel that delivers on the spectacle and body horror fans have come to expect of the series to date. On the other hand though, if your movie’s resorting to lifting dialogue wholesale from Alien: Resurrection, it’s probably not a good one. Steeped in self-referential awe to the degree of eliciting outright groans, Covenant simply will not let up with its continual reaching back to elements of past pictures, until it finally folds directly in on itself and decides Prometheus really was an Alien movie after all.
As was the case last time around, Michael Fassbender owns the show – here getting to take a crack at being both Ian Holm and Lance Henriksen – while the now-requisite female lead yet again disappoints by virtue of being another moping sad sack with no real agency beyond functioning as someone’s girlfriend. While Naomi Rapace had her infertility to ponder however, Next Big Thing™ Katherine Waterston has a log cabin to mourn instead, in addition to a Chekov’s Gun so blatant, you’d think it was purposefully store bought. That being said, Billy Crudup – as reluctant ship’s captain Oram – manages something faintly of note in attempting to explore the role of a man of religious belief in such a world, and while Danny McBride gets very little to do as pilot Tennessee, he at least fares better than Idris Elba last time around.
It’s noteworthy that the best parts of Covenant are its wholly unique elements. The idea of a ship’s crew consisting of couples – and that said crew are destined to live out their days as one another’s neighbours – is an intriguing premise, as too is the exploration of Oram’s belief and the scorn we’re told (yet never shown) it earns him. These elements – and the fascinatingly executed Alien 3 component – though are dumped just as quickly as they’re raised by a story that would rather function like an HD reissue of an old console game than a new title in its own right. To his credit, Scott’s got the directorial goods and then some – with gorgeous visuals galore to ensure you’re never in doubt just whose franchise this is – but it feels more like a franchise whimper than the great revitalising chapter you’d hope for.
The bitch is back, but she’s really just running in circles at this point.