Ever since I can remember watching movies, I’d always been enamoured by monsters in cinema. Be it the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park, The Predator in the eponymous ’87 action classic or The Alien, something about these monsters captured my imagination in ways that no other genre has been able to do. Velociraptors made me feel frightful yet spellbound, The Predator made me feel scared and yet, in a weird way, made me actually root for the monster simply because of how badass I thought it was (those dreadlocks are legitimately awesome) and The Alien, well the Alien deals with a different kind of terror, the terror of the unknown.
However, while Alien: Covenant features the now-legendary movie monster in the title, the film treats the character almost in a supporting role. Don’t get me wrong, the Xenomorph (which is the in-canon name of the creatures species) does play a role in the film, especially in the third act; the main star of this film without a doubt, is the plot …and Michael Fassbender.
Michael Fassbender is truly incredible in this film and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Keeping with my usual decree of not spoiling anything regarding the plot (especially when the movie is this recent), I’m not going to go into specifics apart from saying that Alien: Covenant’s plot directly follows that of Prometheus. Make of that what you will.
What I loved most about this film is just how beautiful the whole affair looks and consequently, how eery it feels. I guess that’s to be expected when you have a veteran filmmaker such as Ridley Scott at the helm, but even then, one can’t help but marvel at the way the man composes his shots. The first act, set largely inside the Covenant spaceship, is shot almost clinically, with pristine environments and a clean, minimalistic look that looks so perfect that it makes you feel uneasy. And it’s a smart move too because the contrast in cinematography that happens when the violence, gore and the HR Giger imagery that this franchise is well known for finally appears onscreen, it’s made even more startling because of the clean visual compositions of everything that had come before.
Of course, Ridley Scott has pulled off this same manoeuvre twice before in the same franchise but it’s something that I never tire of seeing. The performances here are serviceable as well, with the aforementioned Michael Fassbender as the android Walter, Katherine Waterston as Daniels, the latest stand-in for Ellen Ripley and Danny Mc Bride as pilot captain Tennessee being the true standouts. A smattering of actors round up the rest of the ill-fated crew of the Covenant.
Another thing to note is that there are a couple of truly intense and white-knuckled sequences in the film, the kind that I don’t remember seeing in one of these films in a very long time. These sequences show you glimpses of just how fantastic Ridley Scott is as a filmmaker in the way he makes you feel terrified without resorting to jump scares or loud sound effects alone. There were two sequences specifically where I found myself clenching my theatre seat with my heart pounding in my chest. They were clear examples of a filmmaker 100% in tune with his material.
Unfortunately however, the movie surrounding these sequences, while not bad, is nowhere near as exciting as those two sequences alone would have you believe.
The biggest issue I have with this film is actually something that I’d mentioned earlier in this review – the fact that the titular Alien aka The Xenomorph is relegated to being a plot device rather than the instrument of terror that it used to be in previous films. Now of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing if the plot was strong and had enough meat, but bar Michael Fassbender’s performance and the couple of sequences that I’d referred to earlier, that’s unfortunately not the case.
Alien: Covenant, like Prometheus before it, asks big questions and while the search for the answers to those questions is no doubt interesting, it’s ultimately let down by characters who take some truly illogical decisions (a staple of the franchise at this point) and a script that never really delivers on the promise that it sets itself up to have. Major plot points from Prometheus, the previous film, is treated with the equivalent of a shrug for the sake of moving the plot forward and it also doesn’t help that the Xenomorph sequences in the film lack any sort of tension or suspense with entire sequences where the creature is sprinting around in broad daylight, thus taking away from the silent terror that the best films in this franchise, including the more action-oriented Aliens, had perfected.
Nevertheless, Alien: Covenant is still an entertaining film that is no doubt going to provide a different experience for different viewers. And while my review can feel overtly negative, the film still has its moments and a storyline that, while feeling unsatisfying as a whole, can still be intriguing.
I only hope that Shane Black’s upcoming The Predator slated to release next year doesn’t fall into the same pitfalls as this film did.