By Adam Brannon. Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel Prometheus wasn’t as warmly received as the veteran director had hoped for upon its release in 2012. In pitching the film for the coveted 12A market, Scott lost the majority of what made his 1979 masterpiece, rated 18, such an epic adventure.
So, five years on, Scott returns with a follow-up that aims to answer those irritating questions that Prometheus left us with. But is Alien: Covenant a return to form for the series? Or yet another damp squib?
Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, crew members (Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride) of the colony ship Covenant discover a distress signal from what they believe to be an uncharted paradise. While there, they meet David (Michael Fassbender), the synthetic survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition. However, this new mysterious world soon turns dangerous when a hostile alien life-form forces the crew into a deadly fight for survival.
In Covenant, Scott has tried to take the series back to its horror roots. This is a gory and at times difficult film to stomach, but it just isn’t scary. Despite gaining a 15 certification from the BBFC, Covenant feels like Prometheus on steroids – it’s certainly bigger and in many ways better than its predecessor, but it fails to move this ailing franchise in any new direction.
Naturally, character development takes a backseat here, as it does with many films in the genre, but Scott cleverly casts his characters as loving couples, which raises the emotion once the inevitable bloodshed starts to occur.
That cast is most definitely Covenant’s strongest suit. Prometheus had a distinctly unlikeable roster of characters that didn’t gel together. Here, the way they interact is believable and each of the couplings has a degree of chemistry that helps give their deaths some emotional heft.
Katherine Waterston channels Sigourney Weaver to some extent and makes a good leading lady and Danny McBride’s Tennessee is an excellent presence in an against-type performance from the comedian. However, Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of androids Walter and David is exceptional.
To look at, this is by far the best film in the series. Scott has crafted a detailed, haunting world that emits a damp, grey colour palate. The action is expertly shot, but this is to be expected from a director with decades in the industry. Even the Covenant ship itself feels more grounded in reality when compared to the technology of the Prometheus.
Unfortunately, once the remaining crew arrive ‘safely’ back onboard the Mother ship, things start to unravel rapidly. The film takes far too long to land on the uncharted planet meaning that the final act is rushed and this is a real shame considering the middle 45 minutes feature some of the best sequences in the entire series.
It is nice to see our favourite movie extra-terrestrial’s back in the confines of a spaceship, and the CGI used to bring them to life means they move with a fluidity like never before, but there just isn’t enough of it. It needs more Xenomorph.
Elsewhere, Jed Kurzel’s beautiful score lifts the film in its first half, becoming deeply unnerving and claustrophobic in its second. The change in tone is obvious and helps signify the optimism of the crew as they land, compared with the terror as those that remain leave the planet.
Overall, Alien: Covenant improves on Prometheus in the sense that it feels like a true Alien film, rather than a half-baked idea to cash in on the franchise. Unfortunately, a poor final act, a lack of new direction and yet another frustratingly open story means we still may not get the answers we so desperately want until the inevitable sequel arrives in a few years time.