Alien Covenant – Review


I really like the Alien movies, they are good fun, well at least the first two are. Ridley Scott really started something with this franchise and it seems like being a director or writer in this franchise often leads to great things. Aliens was directed by James Cameron, David Finch got his early start with Alien 3 and Joss Weedon wrote the script for Alien Insurrection, though we won’t hold that against him. Now granted, the Alien franchise was rather untouched for quite a while, having only re-immersed itself in the 2000’s for the rather lame Alien versus Predator crossover series of films, directed by Paul W S Anderson, the hacked director behind the Resident Evil films, and guess what, he did a terrible job bringing the ultimate clash of sci-fi nerds to the big screen, twice no less!! After Alien versus Predator Requiem was a total disaster at the Box Office, it meant that anyone who actually liked that movie would never get to see the result of the cliffhanger at the end of Requiem. Sucks to be you guys!!

The franchise did make a brief return in 2013 with Ridley Scott returning to the franchise to direct the prequel Prometheus, explored the space jockey’s better and it was a pretty bad movie too. It wasn’t awful from start to finish, but it was hyped so well and we got our hopes up so high that it meant that our inflated expectations allowed us to judge it even harsher, but to the honest, I didn’t like the movie either. I do stand by my opinions on that one.

I was genuinely looking forward to this film. There are several writing credits to this story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green who are currently developing the story for Kong versus Godzilla, but the screenplay is by John Logan, who wrote the screenplays for Spectre and Gladiator and is reportedly doing the screenplay for the next Bond film and Dante Harper who makes his writing debut for this film. With all that being said however, could Ridley Scott really strike back with the Alien franchise, considering how badly he screwed up Prometheus.

As the title suggests, Alien Covenant follows the colony ship the Covenant. The ship is manned by the robot Walter (played by Michael Fassbender), as the crew makes their way to a plane that has deemed as ideal for colonisation. Oram (played by Billy Crudup) becomes the captain after an accident causes the death of the original captain and in their haste to get the mission solved they follow the signal to a distant planet that seems ideal for colonisation. Joined by several of the crew members including Daniels (played by Katherine Waterston), they head to the planet to discover that it is a hostile environment with the native Aliens attempting to kill them. However, they discover the planet is inhabited by the robot David (also played by Michael Fassbender), who has been stowing away there ever since the Prometheus went missing. Now it is there mission to make contact with the covenant and get the hell off this planet.

Alien Covenant doesn’t sell much of its plot in the trailer. In fact, the trailer under sells the film. At this point, I would say, that while this review will remain spoiler free, if you intend to go and see this film with very little knowledge of any of the plot elements, which I think is the best way to do it, I would say
“stop reading this review and go and see it now”
I like this movie and I recommend it. This isn’t a spoiler warning, but I will have to go into some detail about my thoughts on various elements of the film that aren’t included in the trailer. This plot, however, I will say, is fantastic for the most part. It’s a rather interesting idea, it has some slow build up, that leads to a good pay off. It just doesn’t throw the aliens in as fast as possible like the Alien versus Predator films seemed to do. The rules are consistent with what has been established for the franchise and even establishes some new factors with the air born version of the Xenomorph parasite. If you are going into this hoping to see much of the iconic alien that was designed by H R Geiger, you might be slightly disappointed, it takes quite a while for his appearance to be made, however, the build-up and method for how we get there, makes this whole thing really worth it. The alien is as bad ass as ever and hard to kill and what makes this film interesting, unlike Prometheus and Alien Insurrection and the Alien versus Predator films, the characters aren’t stupid!! They are intelligent characters that get caught off guard. The whole fight for survival element is done brilliantly. The film makes the planet seem very hostile and the early portions of the film on the covenant feel much more like a throw-back to the original alien than the entirety of Prometheus was. Make no mistake, however, this is very much intended to be a follow-up to Prometheus, the plot establishes that the film takes place ten years after the events of Prometheus, though David, being the only surviving member of the Prometheus crew, he is the only character that makes a return from that film. With the exception of David, this film feels like it is trying to distance itself from Prometheus as much as possible and Ridley Scott feels like he has taken a lot of notice what the critics said about Prometheus and improved on it. It frankly feels like going back to the past and giving an origin story to the Xenomorph’s is probably the best way to go. Insurrection took the story way too far ahead in the future and there wasn’t any where for the franchise to go from that point, so going back to the past is a decent idea and gives more space for Ridley Scott to explore the Universe that he helped start.

The best part of this plot is the interactions between David and Walter. It’s almost like a multi-generation gap conversation because Walter is a much later constructed robot and therefore programmed differently, so as a result, they have very different views of the world which leads to some very interesting conversations. Fassbender really sells in a performance which is very difficult to do, he essentially has to act with himself and have amazing chemistry with himself and the special effects allow him to do that expertly. One thing that really does the film in though, however, is that some of the characters feel rather under developed. They are better than the Prometheus cast, but it feels like the only developed characters are Daniels, who risks being a Ripley clone, though just manages to have her own identity, which is more than I can say for Jessica Chastain’s Dr Shaw from Prometheus, Tennessee played by Danny McBride, who is a rather interesting character with interesting motivations and Oram who is the put upon captain, who feels out of his depth being placed into a role he never expected following the death of the original captain. These characters, you want to see come out alive, however, some of the other characters don’t feel like they leave much of an impression and feel like they are there just for the body count. If that’s the worst thing you can say about this movie, considering what we have had so far, that is pretty dam good.

I really enjoyed everything about this film. The fight for survival, the enclosed environments, they even did some interesting ideas later on with the covenant. I don’t want to go into too much detail as I don’t want to give away spoilers and I think I have already done enough, but believe me the motivations in this film are really strong and I enjoyed the plot overall. It didn’t skimp on some interesting plot ideas and it was for once, rather interesting to see an origins story. Not everything works about it, but it feels like the strengths outweigh the weaknesses.

The acting is pretty dam good. I have already gushed about Michael Fassbender who is by far the best performance in the entire film, but I expect nothing less from him considering what a fantastic actor he is. Katherine Waterston steps into a role which feels like she might be out her depth, but she succeeds for the most part. Billy Crudup is given a lot of screen time and does an excellent job in his role. I really enjoyed Danny McBride in this film, who I think is a rather underrated actor. There are also a few cameos in here that deserve mention, but are uncredited in the end, for example Guy Pearce returns as Peter Whalen from Prometheus, but he is only in one scene at the beginning and doesn’t impact the movie at all, you don’t even get a sense of his presence like you did in Prometheus. James Franco also has an uncredited cameo as the original captain, which feels rather pointless considering what a talent he is. The rest of the cast is pretty good for the most part. I don’t think there is a bad performance in the film.

As for the action, however, that’s where things get a little tricky. Ok, I am going to get it out right now, she special effects in the film are pretty good, the background and the set designs are fantastic and some of the location shots in this film are superbly done and have beautiful environments. The location manager and set designers deserve an award for this film and I would argue the special effects could easily get nominated for the Oscars for best visual effects next year. It was all going so well, and then the action happened!! Now the action for the most part is pretty well choreographed and I could tell what was going on for most of the time. This film suffers from quite heavy shaky cam. Granted, it feels more fitting in this film than it does in a lot of other films, that are using it to cover up the fact that they have no action budget and want to cover up the fact that their choreography sucks, say a film like Battle Los Angeles. This is another example where shaky cam could fit a scenario, but it takes you out of it because you are struggling to tell what is happening. The first Hunger Games film suffered from this issue and it’s a very similar issue I have with this film, though granted it was much worse in Hunger Games. The problem is that Saving Private Ryan is the only film who has used it to a great success. I did like some of the new designs of the Neomorph’s and of course the Alien still retails its H R Geiger look and it looks fantastic.

Is Alien Covenant a perfect film? No, it doesn’t quite become a perfect film. Is it a good Alien movie? Hell, yes, this has been the best film in the franchise since James Cameron’s Aliens, and while I don’t think it is on a par with the original two films, it still stands up well and is a good addition to the franchise. I dare even say I think this is one of the better ones. It certainly better than any of the recent sequels to date and better than Alien 3 and Alien Insurrection. It kind of suffers from some under developed characters and way too much reliance on shaky cam, but as a film it feels like a rather decent film and I had a good time seeing it. I recommend it, especially for science fiction fans. Of course, the thing that makes sure this film is not underdone is the fact that the film has an R rating, if this film had been PG13 it wouldn’t nearly hit as well as it does because the special effects are fantastic for the film. Check it out if it is playing in your area. Between this and the Martian, Ridley Scott is back on good form.

And don’t just take my word for it here’s Ren Bromiley thoughts on the movie too:

Alien Covenant shares a lot of similarities with Romantic and Gothic literature in its portrayal of nature.

The infinite vastness of space, freezing temperatures, crushing vacuum, and its lack of gravity make it completely uninhabitable by humans – in fact it’s so far from any sort of environment that we could exist in we would literally die instantly if we were to venture out unassisted.

Being such a barren environment, space evokes feelings of helplessness ( ‘In Space, no-one can hear you scream.’ ) as it is isolated, dangerous, and unpredictable.

Added to this a very Gothic-Lovecraftian element of the unknown (beings and powers beyond our comprehension), humans are highlighted as completely powerless and unprepared to deal with what exists beyond the comfort of our understanding.

– Tonnes of biblical and creationist references from the characters, continuing from Prometheus.
 The genesis of a new life form, David seeing himself as a guiding (perhaps godlike) figure for the Xenomorph species, washing of Weyland’s feet (Prometheus), meeting humanity’s creators (Prometheus); Wagner – Das Rheingold – Entry of the Gods Into Valhalla, the title
‘Alien: Covenant’.

I feel like Alien: Covenant actually made Prometheus into a lot better of a film – a lot of scenes in Prometheus made more sense, and added to David’s character and the position he is in in Covenant.
 The film was thoroughly enjoyable – a lot of theories were confirmed and thrown away over the course of the film. Covenant did a good job of tying together loose ends.

A couple of over-used tropes – David and Walter fighting, ending up in the ol’ switcheroo as David ends up on the ship with Daniels and Tennessee.

Stupid and careless captains in the Alien franchise have been worn to death – although Captain Oram’s idiocy was explained through his religious beliefs (ba-dum tss).

Fantastic ending and cliff hanger pave the way for a menagerie of budding Alien films, and a potential return of Michael Fassbender (though whether or not they’ll continue along this avenue remains to be seen).

Fassbender portrayed well the maddened android David, however in the role of Walter I thought he shined best. Aloof and not quite as human as David, you could see that his character struggled to come to terms with possessing human emotions and feelings.

Katherine Waterson as Daniels (though not quite as durable, or unlucky as Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus) performed an excellent role as replacement Sigourney Weaver. Her character was badass, level-headed (once she’d accepted her partner’s death), and quick-thinking.

Tennessee was actually probably my favourite character in the film – it was interesting to see Danny McBride tackle a non-comedy role, and I thought he performed it admirably. He was believable in many aspects of the role, though his song recognition (Shazam) for Take Me Home, Country Road seemed a little too on point.

Overall, fantastic addition to the Alien franchise. Felt a lot more like the original film, while also taking a lot of the more interesting aspects of Prometheus in tow.

Once again, no mini reviews this week as I have been attending my friend’s wedding.

Next time I will be giving my thoughts on the latest film directed by Guy Ritchie “King Arthur, Legend of the Sword”.

Thanks for reading my review. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it, and as a tribute to the late great Robert Paterson “game over man, game over”.

Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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One comment on “Alien Covenant – Review
  1. Linda Buchan says:

    I enjoyed the combination of the two reviews which really complimented each other

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