You know when those genre movies that you can’t imagine fans not liking? Despite what will likely be some displeasure of critics saying, on the one side, that it is too much like the original and therefore lacks invention, and the other side saying it expands the mythology of the franchise too much, this review experienced the perfect balance of old and new in Ridley Scott’s latest, Alien: Covenant. Not only are the multiple permutations of the iconic alien design represented, the haunted ship theme is leveraged while at the same time as bringing new symbolism and villainy to bear, making this film easily the best since the first two in the franchise. What a surprise after the muddled, philosophical mess of Prometheus. It’s like Scott himself performed xenomorphic C.P.R.
At this point, the director has been creating Alien films longer than many of its fans have been alive. It’s a testament that so many new action, sci-fi and horror fans come into the fold. Alien: Covenant is a film that will bring even more followers to the franchise, while thrilling diehard fans, many of whom, out of loyalty, tried in vain to explain the plot intricacies and vagaries behind Prometheus.
In an opening that echoes moments from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the synthetic created by Weyland genius discusses with his maker what it means to be human, to die, and to create. This sets up the movie as a whole, and it’s subtext, that deals with faith, life, good and evil. Michael Fassbender plays an upgraded version of the synthetic David from Prometheus, who is handling the technical and custodial duties on a colony space vessel called Covenant, that is carrying over 2000 passengers and 1100 embryos who rest in cryonic sleep till they land on their new home, a planet called Origae-6. The crew too is headed for a new start, and as such are all matched sets of partners, who are also expected to help build and populate the new world.
When an accident occurs on the ship that leads to some loss of life, including the captain, first officer Oram (Billy Crudup) makes a fateful decision to veer off course and investigate a nearby planet that appears to be the equal of Origae-6, and instead of seven years, is only a few weeks away. Oh dear. Against the protest of new second in command, the newly-widowed Daniels (Katherine Waterston), he takes Covenant into orbit of the unknown planet, and heads down to the surface with most of the crew. What a gorgeous planet it is. It looks like the wilds of New Zealand (for good reason, that’s where they filmed) and seems tailor-made for colonization. Cue the scary music, as a birthing of an altogether unsavory sort quickly starts happening.
That’s more than enough plot to get fans going, although it’s essential to say there is an evil that is far beyond what you’d expect, lurking about and waiting to take advantage of these unsuspecting victims. Indeed I contend Alien: Covenant gives birth to one of the biggest villains in recent cinematic history, and a terrifying one at that.
The movie isn’t without its flaws. The crew, which fights valiantly against the threat at hand, is comprised of fairly stock characters recognizable from other Alien films, including a pilot named Tennessee (Danny McBride) who makes a very bad judgment call that may temporarily lose some viewers. Damian Bichir and Carmen Ejogo, as other crew members, are definitely underutilized. Crudup’s Oram mentions he’s a man of faith, but that aspect of his personality gets largely dropped from the storyline, instead of being folded into the larger theme of the film. Maybe there’s something of it on the cutting room floor.
None of the weaknesses derail the spectacle. Ultimately, it’s Michael Fassbender’s movie, who appears to have a field day playing out the script, alternately nuancing it and chewing it up. He is certainly one of the highly entertaining elements keeping the audience in thrall for the movie’s 2 hour running time. The aliens themselves, of course, are another. They are very scary, and there’s no shortage of bloodletting. As a fan, though, seeing the facehuggers once again, which Scott reintroduce here, felt like greeting an old friend.