The franchise may have changed hands in the intervening years, but Alien has always been Ridley Scott’s baby. He tried to bring it into the 21st century with Prometheus, an ambitious slice of visual spectacle that was undermined by outrageous lapses in logic. Yet there was always going to be a sequel, and with Alien: Covenant Scott seems to be back in his groove: he’s crafted something suspenseful and smart, with a great performance (or two) at its core.
The basic template is the same: a ragtag group of scientist set sail for the cosmos, only to find themselves inconvenienced by an alien with a flair for dramatic entrances. There’s Oram (Billy Crudup), reluctant captain and a man of faith; Daniels (Katherine Waterson), a spunky pseudo-Ripley; Tennessee (Danny McBride), who wears a stupid hat; and, of course, Walter, an android played by Michael Fassbender. He’s based on the same model as David from the first movie, but without a trace of the mischievous personality that, essentially, led the crew of the Prometheus to their doom.
The team on the ship are a bit more intelligent this time around, though this still doesn’t stop most of them from dying horrible, agonising deaths. When a few of the miscellaneous grunts step on eggs that release tiny spores into their ears, it’s disturbing; yet it’s soon topped by the feature’s first heart-stopping, stomach-churning action sequence, which sees their bodies ripped apart by a smooth, white Xenomorph – the blood and bone on offer, here and elsewhere, makes Noomi Rapace’s auto-caesarean section seem like child’s play.
The escalation into utter chaos happens so quickly that it’s hard to process it other than viscerally. And truth be told, in the traditional sense, this is not a very good Alien film. H R Geiger’s creation lost its terror when it started being sold as an action figure, and the characters, too, seem emboldened by this – the movie’s at its weakest in familiar scenes of conflict with the beast, where no amount of shaky-cam can distract from the fact that it’s like swatting at a fly with newspaper.
But that’s excusable – because if there’s a Ridley Scott film this resembles, it’s actually Blade Runner. Once all hell breaks loose on the planet, the crew run into David (Fassbender again), who’s somehow still alive and weirder than ever. His motives are tied into his own fascination with creation – and the scenes in which he interacts with Walter, aka himself, are genuinely fascinating, both as a discussion about the God complex and as a chance for the actor to deliver a great dual performance.
For every scene where Alien: Covenant holds itself back with reheated references (likely from studio interference) and sloppy choreography, it’s matched by something extraordinary, the work of an accomplished visual stylist who’s trying to steer his franchise into challenging territory – and only finding a few bumps along the way.
Alien: Covenant is released nationwide on 12th May 2017.
Watch the trailer for Alien: Covenant here: