Review – Alien: Covenant

Ridley Scott returns to the Alien franchise he nearly killed with Prometheus and serves up a cinematic franchise restoration of sorts with Alien: Covenant. A serviceable thriller that’s beautifully made, lifts heavily from its predecessors and is, sadly, showing signs of fatigue.

My esteemed colleague Stephen coined the term ‘Prometheus Logic‘, which means to go off and do something that is so ridiculously illogical/nonsensical given all the elements in play leading up to said action. As we all know 2012’s Prometheus was a goldmine of utterly stupid writing, illogical decision making and ridiculously incoherent plotting. It copped a fair whack of ire from fans of the franchise, namely directed at the screenplay from John Spaihts  and Damon Lindelof, and is the subject of Screen Junkies best ever Honest Trailer (I’ve included it below, it is so very on point and so very, very funny).

It’s clear that Scott and his new writing quartet of Jack Paglan (the utterly horrendous Transcendence), Michael Green (Logan), John Logan (Penny Dreadful) and Dante Harper (he’s a newbie), have listened to the critiques and attempt to make amends in Alien: Covenant aka Alien: Paradise Lost aka Prometheus: Paradise Lost aka Prometheus 2 aka No, Neill Blomkamp You Can’t Make Aliens 5.

Yet, like its predecessor, Alien: Covenant is filled with Prometheus Logic.

It’s 10 years after the events of Prometheus and the colonisation vessel Covenant, with its crew of 15 and cargo of 2,000 souls, is on its way to a new Earth-like planet in the middle of nowhere Universe. A freak neutrino burst forces the hyper sleeping crew to be woken up, 7.4 years shy of their destination, for urgent repair works on the ship by Walter, the on board android (Michael Fassbender). The accident claims the life of their captain and sees Oram (Billy Crudup) reluctantly assume command of the ship with Ripley 2.0 Daniels (Kate Waterston) as 2IC, Tennessee (Danny McBride), Lope (Demian Bichir), Karine (Carmen Ejogo), Ricks (Jussie Smollett) and Upworth (Callie Hernandez) rounding out the principle players.

Amidst the repairs, Tennessee intercepts a radio signal (sound familiar?) that reveals to the crew there is an Earth like planet some mere weeks awake. Without analysis (insert Prometheus Logic here) Oram instructs the ship to investigate and before we know it, a landing party is on the surface of this beautifully threatening and stormy new planet. It’s not long before a litany of Prometheus Logic decisions are made and two of the landing party are infected with the black spory-stuff.

The first (and goriest) birthing befalls local actor Benjamin Rigby’s Ledward in a spine tingling and particularly brutal display that reintroduces us to those white aliens from Prometheus. Let’s see more of him on screen, please, in a meatier role!

The second orally driven delivery is also quite impressively done. And the beasties, well, they grow and move damn fast. A chain reaction of events that claims a few more lives sees a saviour emerge from the darkness in the form of David (Michael Fassbender) – the android from Prometheus. It’s here where I will jump of the narrative retelling of the plot.

Alien: Covenant is, essentially, two films broken into three pieces. The first (and more superior) hour is pure Alien fan servicing, there’s a familiarity to it yet it feels invested and rings true to what makes the 1979 film such a classic. The nods in the score and the visual effects will definitely tickle some viewers.

It’s when the film switches gear onto this planet as David re-enters the story that it turns into Prometheus 2. Scott and team try hard to pick at existential crises, mythology and find a narrative end for their ‘Engineers’ subplot but it can’t stick the landing. The dialogue is hammy and the narrative devises, laden with Prometheus Logic, think they are smart but are really very silly.

The third act reveal that shifts the film back into Alien/Aliens territory, lifts the action (and gore) back up to high octane levels setting up sequences totally driven to acknowledge its sources and give the fans what they were waiting to see.

It works, but it doesn’t feel as fresh or as strong as the opening act. What is welcome, however, is the return to its more biological horror roots albeit there’s an overarching sense this gravy train is running out of steam.

The one thing the film does beautifully is its production design. The film looks stunning from the interiors of the Covenant, to the landscapes of this new world, frequent Scott cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (The Martian, Prometheus) and editor Pietro Scalia (The Martian, Prometheus) have fashioned an exquisitely visual sci fi horror film that keeps pace.

Alien: Covenant is a serviceable thrill ride that defies logic and is showing signs of wear and tear on the almost 40 year old franchise. Fans of the original will welcome the knowing nods and the uninitiated will get some thrills here but I wonder – where is there to go from here?

✭✭✭

ALIEN: COVENANT releases on 11 MAY, 2017 in AUSTRALIA through 20TH CENTURY FOX

 

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