While watching Alien Covenant’s predecessor, Prometheus¸ there was a nagging feeling that, at some point in the creative process, an interesting and potentially excellent existentialist sci-fi epic was diluted by a regrettable attempt to link it to a pre-existing horror property. The mishmash of ideas never felt cohesive and the end product felt like it was stranded in a dissatisfying middle ground: not quite an Alien movie and never finding its own voice.
The chief concern upon entering Alien Covenant, a movie that is being sold as very much an Alien offering, is whether it would grow into to the mould of the Sigourney Weaver-fronted franchise. The worry was always whether it would, once again, feel like a disjointed jigsaw puzzle of half-realised ideas.
With an opening scene that features an aging, but not yet completely antiquated, Guy Pearce, discussing the meaning of existence, Alien Covenant’s opening salvo isn’t hugely promising. The muddled pseudo-religious subtexts present in Prometheus remain, blending moments of classic mythology and creation-myth, but present also is something like a “best of” moments from previous Alien entries.
The plot walks in the already well-trodden footsteps of its forebears, with a band of colonists, en route to a new interstellar home, detouring to trace the source of a mysterious transmission. The team, including a second Fassbender as the upgraded android, Walter, lands on an apparently uninhabited planet before discovering the remnants of the Prometheus mission and the associated life-threatening dangers.
It’s so desperate to align itself with the previous Alien movies that it seems to take every musical cue straight from the first couple of films. The narrative recycles a fistful of moments from the franchise, and a couple of abandoned Alien 3 ideas from the William Gibson and Vince Ward scripts, into a cluttered mess that watches like an Alien tribute movie or a “Now That’s What I Call Aliens” compilation. It’s a marginal improvement of Prometheus in terms of sheer fun, but it’s a long way short of satisfying, or even totally cohesive.
Fassbender is, once again, about the only thing to write home about, even if his performance has become exaggerated to the point where he resembles Captain Hook rather than an insidious and inscrutable robot; though his relatively dependable Walter does provide a fun balance to the borderline hysteria of his Lawrence of Arabia-inspired David.
The rest of the cast tramples through and is immediately forgettable in much the same way as the Prometheus crew, despite an admirable effort by Billy Crudup, as the Covenant’s under-appreciated and insecure captain. The intended star of the show, the returning Xenomorph along with its baby brother Neomorph, provides plenty of visceral and bloody horror that goes some way to making up for the limp-wristed action of Prometheus, but its impact is diminished by the futile plotting and dispiriting insistence on weaving in too many grand and wearying philosophical subtexts and pointless moments of posturing.
Alien Covenant is a marginal improvement on Prometheus, but like its predecessor, it’s hampered by too many insufferable reflections on classicism and bungling stabs at theological import.
[rating=3] | Chris Banks
Sci-Fi, Horror | UK, 2017 | 15 | 12th May 2017 (UK)| 20th Century Fox Pictures | Dir.Ridley Scott | Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Michael Fassbender, Callie Hernandez, Danny McBride, Tess Haubrich