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Review: Alien: Covenant

Clearly influenced by the decidedly mixed reviews of Prometheus, the new Alien film returns to a visual and cinematic style that is highly reminiscent of the much-acclaimed Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986). With a stellar ensemble cast and a gripping plot, Covenant boasts the characteristically epic form we have come to expect from both Ridley Scott and Alien films.

Alien: Covenant is the sixth instalment in the Alien franchise and the sequel to the 2012 prequel Prometheus (2012), which Scott also directed. Set ten years after the events of Prometheus, this film depicts the efforts of a team who have left Earth to try and find a new, inhabitable planet to colonise. Having found one that seems to replicate the conditions of Earth, they hope to have found the perfect place. Needless to say, the planet they arrive on is not quite as ideal as they initially assume.

The story itself is simple but engaging, interspersed with revealing flashbacks as the team travel towards a potential new home and eventually land on its surface. An ominous sense of tension builds gradually from the start and conflict arises between newly-appointed captain Oram (Billy Crudup) and second-in-command Daniels (Catherine Waterson), who is suspicious of the new planet.

The cast and acting are, on the whole, quite respectable: Waterston is very convincing as Daniels, the short-haired, strong-willed vice captain with whom viewers will no doubt draw comparisons to Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. Crudup is also notable for his performance as the ship’s well-meaning but somewhat ineffective captain, who worries the crew lack respect for him due to his Christian faith, which he struggles with increasingly. However, Michael Fassbender easily steals the show in his outstanding, multi-faceted dual-performance as androids Walter and David. Walter is a reserved, loyal android trusted by the crew whereas David is more unpredictable. His story provides themes of mythology, religion and creation, attempting to mythologize the Prometheus film and giving Covenant existential aspects and an almost intellectual quality at times – a surprising yet positive addition to an Alien film.

The downside to Fassbender’s superb performances is that Covenant’s focus strays from Alien’s original premise of following a strong female lead, as Daniels is overshadowed by Fassbender’s characters. Despite her own commendable performance, Waterston’s character is diminished by a lack of scenes, minimal character depth and mediocre dialogue, swearing and yelling her way through the film as she tries to protect her crew whilst not being provided with any opportunities for the subtler, nuanced dialogue frequently given to Walter and David.

The visually impressive technology of the ship, weapons and equipment is eye-catching, inviting comparisons to the designs which feature in Alien, whilst thankfully not over-explained with the tedious technical jargon that perforates several of the previous films. Covenant’s narrative suffers from a slow pace to begin with, but the aliens’ thrillingly gruesome first appearance is unlikely to disappoint viewers. The aliens are impressive in their physical presence and appearance, imbuing the film with potent elements of horror and moments of genuine fear as people are pursued, attacked and killed in a variety of horrific but creative ways. Whilst the cinematography is by no means groundbreaking, it is well filmed and produced; shots of the natural landscape are grand and sweeping as the team trudge through fields and forests, and the ship and its corridors are similarly well-captured and meticulously designed.

Covenant depicts an intriguing story in which humanity, creation and creators are central to the plot and even manages to include occasional moments of dark humour and some palpable homoerotic undertones in David and Walter’s scenes. Certain subplots and characters are woefully underdeveloped and the film’s first half in particular is prone to corny dialogue and characters who seem utterly two-dimensional. However, these will likely not be issues for Alien fans. Alien: Covenant is among the more satisfying, higher-quality instalments of the franchise; an entertaining, blood-spattered extravaganza that pays homage to its much-loved source material whilst updating the visuals and creatures to breathe much-needed life into the franchise.

Alien: Covenant is in cinemas across the UK now. Image source: Movieweb.com