Out of all the Hollywood franchises to suffer from diminishing returns over the years, the Alien series has been treated worst than most. After bursting out of the chest of two of the most critically-acclaimed films of all-time, Alien 3 was the beginning of a downward spiral that lasted over two decades. Fortunately, 2012’s Prometheus was a definite improvement on the dreadful Alien vs Predator films but it still had flaws despite a lot of love for its return. Now, Ridley Scott returns to the franchise he started once again for Alien: Covenant and, so, is it a true return to form for the Xenomorphs…or should it finally be into hypersleep?
Thankfully, Alien: Covenant (mostly) functions as the latter, and finally injects some much-needed horror back into the franchise. As a pseudo-sequel to Prometheus, Scott has given his new prequel series a soft reboot, with the focus shifting back to the creatures that have defined the series since 1979. The plot picks up 10 years after the events of the aforementioned film, with a brand new crew of unsuspecting snacks embarking on a colonisation mission. After receiving a mystery distress call, they make a detour to an unknown planet, where they soon find the remains of the doomed Prometheus ship.
This plan functions as an excellent launchpad for Scott’s new film, which is planned to be the start of a new trilogy and fortunately the narrative also avoids the strange subplots and muddled storytelling of its predecessor, which bodes well for future sequels. Fans of Prometheus will be happy to hear that Elizabeth Shaw’s fate is explained but don’t expect to see much of Noomi Rapace reprising her role. Instead, the focus is shifted towards Michael Fassbender in his dual-roles as both David and Walter. The contrast between the two androids is beautifully explored, with an award worthy performance given by Fassbender. The former X-Men star once again displays his versatility as he seamlessly transforms from the unnervingly disturbed David, to the inherently likeable, and heroic Walter. As a result, audiences are treated to some gorgeously bizarre sequences, which once again explores the ever-interesting, and increasingly relevant themes of, creation, parenthood, sexuality, and even rape.
As the latest in a long-line of bad-ass women to inhabit the Alien world, Katherine Waterston admirably carries the film. Waterston’s character is effectively crafted, if not a little bit cliched. Within minutes of screen time, the Fantastic Beasts star displays some incredible range and emotion to her performance, which quickly helps establish her character. Unfortunately, along the line this does devolve into a typical gun-toting, action role for Waterston but the talented actress still manages to inject humanity into every scene. Danny McBride and Billy Crudup are executed well enough but are ultimately forgettable as nothing more than placeholders for familiar stereotypes. There are also some small cameo appearances, in the form of a painfully underutilised James Franco, and a welcome return from a non-aged Guy Pearce.
Visually, Covenant is far too familiar to past entries in the franchise, with no ground-breaking visual effects on display here. But that’s not to say that the special effects aren’t great, as far as modern blockbusters as concerned and one particular highlight is the sequence displaying the fate of the engineers, and their mystery race of god-like humanoids. Although, they will probably stay a mystery now, as disappointingly little time is spent exploring this aspect of the story.
Overall, Alien: Covenant is not perfect but definitely a huge improvement on Prometheus. In fact, few will disagree that this is easily the most impressive instalment since James Cameron’s Aliens. With suspense, horror, and quite a bit of gore now firmly re-established, it seems like Scott is just warming up with his welcome return to this universe. Now, Fassbender is firmly positioned as the ‘villain’ of the series, the Xenomorphs have finally returned, and we can’t wait to see which direction things go in next.