Movie Review - Alien: Covenant

Returning once more to the chilling Alien franchise after 2012's ambitious prequel, Prometheus, director Ridley Scott reels fans of the deep-space horror series back in with Alien: Covenant. Acting as both a follow-up to Prometheus, as well as prequel to the original Alien, Scott's latest dive into the grand and grotesque returns to the form of the 1979 classic, while also stretching its cryptic mythology to even greater lengths. While the overall payoff might feel somewhat familiar, fans of the franchise and its gruesome range of violence and suspense should get something out of the latest sci-fi adventure.

As the colony ship Covenant hurdles through deep-space en-route to a remote planet, the crew is suddenly awaken when they discover what appears to be an uncharted paradise in their path. Touching down on the unknown planet, the crew is soon discovered by David (Michael Fassbender), the sole synthetic survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition. The mysterious world they uncover quickly becomes hell on earth, after a hostile alien life-form threatens the lives of the entire crew. Forced into a lethal battle for survival, the crew must find a way off the world before the unknown horrors of the past and present leave them for dead.

While calling myself a fan of the ever-growing Alien franchise might be a bit of a long-shot, as I avoided the original films for the majority of my childhood, something deep within compelled me to pick up the franchise again and settle in for the latest installment, Alien: Covenant. With 2012's Prometheus being my first true venture into the deep-space horror series, I was left with an undeniable desire for more. While Prometheus might not have been the most compelling place to start, the eerie atmosphere and mythology of the film, crafted by the ambitious director that is Ridley Scott, managed to keep me intrigued as I uncovered the origins of the 1979 film that started it all. After finally going back to watch the latter, settling in for Covenant this month felt a bit more familiar to that film as opposed to Prometheus. That, I imagine, was ultimately Scott's goal in making this grandiose follow-up.

Right from the start, I noticed that Covenant was trying, for the most part, to bring the audience back to the grimy, bone-chilling feel of the first film. With that, spawned a number of similarities between the old films and this one. While the bloodshed of aliens vs. humans was greatly welcomed, something that was somewhat toned down in Prometheus, the first hour of the film felt all too predictable to deliver anything new. Offering up a motley crew of generally-forgettable crew members, who investigate a strange distress call on a distant planet, the film geared more towards the nostalgia and story structure of the original to set up for the remainder of the film.

That being said, I will say that I found the following acts of the film to be the most compelling. While it might follow suit at times with the previous Alien films, Covenant worked to propel much more lingering questions than Prometheus did towards the audience. While the new film might lack more of the mythology behind the humanoid creators of humankind, the Engineers, that Prometheus teased at, the story did work to tell us something of the creation of the titular Xenomorph. Also hinting at the true intensions of Guy Pierce's Peter Weyland and his synthetic creations seen throughout the franchise, while Covenant might not be fueled by its mysterious backstory, it does leave the audience in an enjoyable realm of speculation.

While the film might lack in delivering any truly compelling crew members that reach the level of Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley, the cast of the film had enough charisma between them to make them enjoyable to watch -- at least until they bit the dust. With leads Katherine Waterston and Billy Crudup giving their best as they struggle to stay alive against deadly alien forces and strange occurrences, the true star of the film quickly became Michael Fassbender. Taking on two roles, similar but altogether different in nature, the actor propelled much of the story along with his role of synthetic androids David and Walter. Bringing forth a far more complex performance than in Prometheus, Fassbender's chilling yet heartfelt mannerisms made the final acts of the film worth watching.

Overall, while the latest Alien film might borrow a lot from its previous adventures on the big screen, the chilling installment presented a return to form for director Ridley Scott, as well as a welcomed return to the hard-R bloodshed the franchise had been lacking. With a compelling performance from Michael Fassbender that worked to keep the rest of the cast in line, and a slew of lingering questions that leaves me partially intrigued for the next adventure, the deep-space horror of Alien lives on in Covenant. 

I gave Alien: Covenant a 7 out of 10, because even though it might not live up to the legacy of better Alien films, the fascinating mythology of the Alien universe continues to spawn further interest in the darker places the franchise could go.

What did you think of Alien: Covenant? Interested in learning more about director Ridley Scott and his expansive filmography? Stay tuned next week as I break down some of the director's most grandiose projects, from sci-fi adventures like Alien and Blade Runner to epic period-pieces like Gladiator and Robin Hood!         

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