By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.
Visionary director Ridley Scott continues to carry the Alien franchise along a bold and refreshingly unique route, as he last did in the criminally underrated Prometheus (2012), with the eighth entry overall in the former-stated cinematic succession, Alien: Covenant (2017). This is while respecting the foundation, the well-placed moments of terror and masterful buildup (as well as the working-class characterizations and claustrophobic cinematography), that were present in Scott’s original film in the series, Alien (1979). The satisfying and rich story, which revolves around a ship of colonists who land on a planet they believe to be habitable only to find themselves encountering a chain of deadly threats, is where the above-mentioned qualities are most evident. Such results in the rare modern science-fiction/ horror release that is as rich, challenging and cerebral as it is atmospheric and entertaining. Likewise, the finale, though a shade predictable, is still the perfect note in which to end the film.
As always with a genre feature from Scott, the sets are meticulously detailed, striking, complex and inspiring. In turn, they are almost as lively as the stars themselves. The performances, true to the Alien tradition, are gritty and credible. Katherine Waterston is especially good as Daniels: a more visibly vulnerable riff on Sigourney Weaver’s Alien heroine, Ellen Ripley. Yet, Michael Fassbender steals the show in his dual role as the identical androids David and Walter. These portrayals remain layered despite the inability of the otherwise magnificent screenplay, from John Logan and Dante Harper, to flesh-out our protagonists in any new way. This is a problem initially glimpsed in the commencing minutes of the picture. It courses throughout the duration.
Correspondingly, the pace is uneven. Still, its construction is oddly enchanting and exhilarating. Relatedly, some of the effects, the contribution from a crew of dozens of individuals, are a bit underwhelming. But, there is also plenty of excellent work provided in this arena to be seen. Furthermore, Alien: Covenant isn’t quite as philosophical, visually spectacular or ambitious as Prometheus. It also isn’t as groundbreaking or immediately terrifying as Alien. Still, Alien: Covenant remains a terrific addition to the Alien canon. The pure craft Scott showcases throughout the entirety of its one-hundred-and-twenty-two-minute runtime makes up for these comparatively minor flaws. This is especially true of Alien: Covenant‘s perpetually somber, elegiac and dread-laced tone.
Operating as both a sequel to Prometheus and a prequel to Alien, Alien: Covenant is sure to frustrate those who want only Xenomorph action. Though the sparse bits consisting of such a detail are vicious, jarring and well-done. Regardless, it will assuredly enthrall audiences who like their movie-going experiences more singular. The quietly eloquent opening sequence alerts spectators of this factor immediately.
In the end, Alien: Covenant is a brilliant signpost of the life still left in this near forty-year-old saga. It is just as much a symbol of Scott’s endlessly evolving mastery of the material. Fans intrigued by the Alien mythology will adore Scott’s most recent outing. I know I did! As a matter of fact, I look forward to absorbing its myriad wonders once more on the biggest screen possible.
(R). Contains graphic violence, language and some sexual content.
Alien: Covenant was released in U.S. theaters on May 19th, 2017.