- Michael Fassbender is excellent as a robot
- Some good characters, but too many bland ones
- Engaging script which addresses interesting themes that keep audiences interest and progress story
- Lots of gore, but no fear
Ridley Scott has had a slightly wobbly run as director since the start of the 21st century; yes, he has made greats like Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and The Martian… But we can’t, and perhaps shouldn’t, forget some of his less stellar and more recent works; Robin Hood, The Counsellor, Exodus: Gods and Kings – and even Prometheus. Some of the less accomplished ones have made us question Ridley Scott in the latter part of his career – can he still direct great films like Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise the original Alien? I’m personally optimistic with Ridley Scott (everyone can go through a bad patch) and Alien: Covenant, whilst not nearly capable of emulating the height of the original, is a good sign that he certainly hasn’t lost his immense talent.
A colony spaceship on its way to a remote planet runs into some trouble during its journey, tempting its crew to cut the journey short and settle on a different, closer planet. Naturally in an Alien film the crew runs into trouble on the planet, forcing them to survive and flee from the titular murderous alien. However, there’s a much darker conspiracy that threatens to wreak even more havoc and mayhem.
As plots go it’s neither unique nor bold, yet this doesn’t necessarily matter. After all, we know what to expect with films in this series and, quite frankly, would be disappointed if we got anything radically different. The plot itself is simple, but engaging; though the pace may at times be slow, enough happens to keep us interested and the script develops the themes of the film well. Themes such as humanity and the privilege of being able to create give us some much needed depth to a film which would otherwise run the risk of just being a sci-fi gore fest. The final twist at the end however can be seen as a weakness to the plot. This twist itself isn’t bad per sé, but the way it’s handled could have been so much better – no spoilers about what it is, but you’ll see it coming a good half an hour or so before it’s revealed; it doesn’t take a genius to predict it and, if you don’t see it coming, you’re not old enough for this film anyway. It’s still nevertheless a chilling twist and good to end on, but it would have so much more impact if we weren’t already expecting it to come.
It’s also a shame that the majority of the crew’s characters aren’t fully developed. With the exceptions of Michael Fassbender’s synthetics (robots David and Walter), Daniels (Katherine Waterston) and Tennessee (Danny McBride) (and perhaps arguably also Billy Crudup’s Captain Oram), most of the characters in this film are faceless members of crew who are systematically killed off by the Xenomorph. None are unique and memorable, their existence in this film merely to serve as victims for our bloodthirsty enjoyment; we rarely feel for them when they die.
The characters we do get to know however, are interesting and push the story. We sympathise with Daniels, understanding her frustration since we know landing on this planet will be a bad idea; and Danny McBride is perfect as a tough man on the surface, who can be heroic when necessary but still shows the heart we need for a man who survives till the end. It’s a shame the character of Daniels wasn’t pushed to the feminist heights of Sigourney Weaver’s famous Ripley, but she holds her own even still. The actor who steals the show though is indisputably Michael Fassbender. Not only does he have to act as a robot, but he has to act as two different robots, requiring that he shows similarities in both, but simultaneously discernible differences too. Everything from the way he interacts with humans to his movements, is perfect. At times you’d almost think the character were human, if it weren’t for the slight nuances Fassbender includes in his performance which perfects the uncanny.
Personally I enjoyed the references to previous entries in the franchise, though the franchise has started to confuse me. As I understood it, there were the Alien films and then the planned Prometheus spin-offs. Yet these seemed to have amalgamated into one… Or perhaps not at all. With all its references to Prometheus, Alien: Covenant actually seems more like a sequel to that prequel instead of anything else. Still, despite the confusion, the references are enjoyable for fans and newcomers alike – you don’t have to have seen previous films, but the references make the story richer and more detailed.
Lastly it wouldn’t be an Alien movie without mentioning the violence and horror aspect, of which there is an abundance. Nowadays there are plenty of violent horror films, so this can’t stand out like the original. Yet the gore is fairly unrelenting and occasionally imaginative, so fans of this trait will enjoy it. For an accomplished director like Ridley though, it seems strange that it’s as if he was too keen for audiences to revel in the violence of the alien. It’s rarely seen as a scary, foreboding creature. It pops up occasionally to kill and wreak havoc, but there’s no menace to it. It’s not presented as a scary, frightening figure, something which should really be attributed to the Xenomorphs..
All in all, it’s fairly typical for an entry in a long-running franchise; it’s good, but it’s not the original. The story is engaging and exciting, with some interesting characters, themes and excellent performances to complement the cathartic gore. Yet too many characters are bland, leaving us to care little for their fate, and the alien seems more like a side note, and not the menacing monster we should fear so much.