Alien prequel and Prometheus sequel Alien: Covenant is finally here, and as the first film directed by Ridley Scott that technically qualifies as a sequel in the Alien series, we finally get to ask: Is it as good as the first one (whichever film that refers to)?
The original Alien from 1979 is regarded as a science-fiction classic. It still holds a 97% approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com, and inspired several sequels and spinoffs that never completely lived up to the original. The sequels, though expanding and cinematically creative, never managed to expand the story or mythology, and left several potential plot point unexplored. Then original director Ridley Scott took the franchise back, making the sort-of prequel Prometheus, which expands the universe without making another repetitive sequel.
Prometheus was heavily criticised for plot issues and illogical characters. And apparently, if the fans don’t like his film, Ridley Scott throws his toys out and makes a derivative sequel that gives them the xenomorph body-horror that the original three sequels did.
Alien: Covenant bridges most of the gap between Prometheus and Alien, by featuring the “missing link” in the weird genetic experiment “evolution” that resulted in the titular xenomorph Aliens from the original film, and briefly concludes the investigation into the tall and pale “engineers” that drove the plot in Prometheus. The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world. They find out what happened to the crew of the previous film, and have a thrilling horror experience along the way.
You can also tell, at first glance, what role the tough, short-haired female crewmember is going to play (*cough*Faux-Ripley*cough*), and a lot of relationships feel like plot devices rather than part of fully-formed characters (as part of a colonisation mission, the crew consists only of couples – which makes me consider how much a breakup must suck if literally the whole planet is made up of couples). It’s a bit of a rehash – though I’m sure others would prefer the term “homecoming” – and it lacks the originality and inventiveness that Prometheus had. Alien: Covenant‘s ethical and existential questions are explored less thoroughly, though it comes to more of a conclusion.
Alien: Covenant is still a thrilling and action-packed parasite-horror flick, and some sequences that pit xenomorph-like aliens against the human crew at least changed location: It’s refreshing to see people being hunted by aliens in wheat fields rather than the endless interiors of spaceships or space stations. On the other hand, some sequences feel like retreads from other instalments in the series. The film represents an internal struggle between giving audiences exactly what they ask for, and following the narrative to new and interesting places. In short, I expected more innovation.
But as just another entry in the franchise, Alien: Covenant does well and ticks all the boxes. It’ll feature pretty high up in most rankings of Alien movies (maybe third or fourth on my list), and keeps you guessing and being surprised throughout. It’s shot beautifully (with crisp, colourful, high-detail and often well-lit scenes similar to Prometheus and The Martian), well performed (we see a different, serious side of Danny McBride, and another showcase of Michael Fassbender’s endless talent), and though it’s technically amazing, you have to keep in mind that we’ve already seen one actor share the screen with himself at least as far back as 1989. And although the sets and locations looked completely believable and convincing, there were one or two moments where the CG-animated aliens seemed a little fake. Which is odd, considering that this is a high-budget movie in 2017.
So Alien: Covenant doesn’t break any real ground and isn’t going to be classified as a classic or a must-see or a genre-defying masterpiece. But it’s a good film that ticks all the right boxes. Hey, maybe I’m just not enough of a fan of the serious to really get what the die-hard fans want: Aliens, attacking people, frightening the audience, and infiltrating human host bodies in creepy new ways.
PS. Take note, Disney: THIS is how you introduce the first openly gay characters in your franchise.
Alien: Covenant is directed by Ridley Scott, and stars Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride. It is in cinemas from 19 May 2017.