Synopsis – The crew of a colony ship, bound for a remote planet, discover an uncharted paradise with a threat beyond their imagination, and must attempt a harrowing escape.
My Take – Does anyone remember how director Ridley Scott made confound denials that his 2012 film Prometheus had nothing do with the Alien franchise? Well we all know how that turned out. While, I am aware that I’m one of few who actually really enjoyed that film (have seen it multiple times over the years) and its philosophical musings on the creation of life, I get it why many hated the film mainly as the film left everyone with many questions unanswered and posed an unorthodox solution to how the much beloved Xenomorphs were created. Nevertheless, as a fan of the visually stunning film, I eagerly waited for the mystery to unfold in a follow up and to know more about these mysterious beings nicknamed the Engineers, to delve into their society and really see what they were like as a civilization, especially about how they created humanity, and why they had decided to wipe the slate clean. Therefore, the announcement of yet another installment to the Alien franchise instead of a proper follow up to Prometheus, was particularly disappointing, mainly as the Alien franchise has over the years mutated from a compressed horror to straight up science fiction actioner with just minute elements of terror. Luckily, this sixth installment to the franchise (not counting in the mashups AVP & AVP Requiem), marks the series’ successful return to its horror/sci-fi roots that has been absent for some time & yes, the film does contain some terrifying moments that manage to keep you on the edge of your seats, especially in the final act, where our female lead takes on our titular creature head on just like the 1979 film. That being said, these moments are few and far between, mainly as the tone is all over the place leaving us with a story that doesn’t seem to be heading in any specific direction, apart from being coerce towards the original film. Here, director Ridley Scott has made an uneven film which seems to be stuck between a new Alien entry for the studio and his own personal desire of what a Prometheus sequel would look like. While, the Alien parts remain faithfully fast paced & gory, it’s the Prometheus ingredients which seem shoehorned & draggy, resulting in a quite disjointed film. Not only that, the Prometheus portions are less philosophical than its predecessor, the film also completely disregards the entire set up of the 2012 film’s climax. The film feels more like a reboot than an appendage. If a reboot is what it is, despite being mostly entertaining, it should be considered both a failure and absolutely pointless on an artistic level, because the original had done everything more convincingly, with more sincerity, energy, creativity and drama.
Taking place ten years after the events of Prometheus, the story follows the Covenant, a colony ship in the year 2104, heading toward the other side of the galaxy. On board are 2,000 colonists in a deep stasis, 1,000 human embryos, a dozen crew members and a synthetic android named Walter (Michael Fassbender), an advanced version of the previous model of the synthetic known as David. On their way to a planet called Origae-6, the ship is hit by shockwave, causing significant damage and accidentally awakening the crew. In the process, the captain Branson (James Franco) dies and first officer Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) assumes command of the ship. As the crew is coming to terms with what has happened and working to repair the ship, they receive a radio transmission that appears to be human in origin. Upon tracking the source of the transmission is found to be emitting from a planet that seems to be a better habitable spot for their new colony. To avoid getting back into their hyper sleep pods for yet another seven years to reach their intended destination at Origae-6, Oram decides to check it this uncharted territory, despite continuing objections and concerns from Branson’s wife and now second in command Daniels (Katherine Waterston). As the Covenant, piloted by the cowboy hat-wearing Tennessee (Danny McBride) orbits this new planet along with Upworth (Callie Hernandez) & Ricks (Jussie Smollett), most of the crew takes a lander down to the planet’s surface. The expedition consists of acting captain Oram, his wife, biologist Karen Oram (Carmen Ejogo), Daniels who is also a terraforming expert, their security head Sergeant Lope (Demián Bichir), Tennessee’s wife Faris (Amy Seimetz), Rosenthal (Tess Haubrich) and a couple others. While exploring the area their discoveries range from delightful to shocking for example, the land show signs of human cultivation of what appears to be wheat, but at the same time there are no signs of animals or birds. The expedition team also find the crashed Engineer’s ship which Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) had escaped the doomed LV-223 in, along with a now fully functioning David (Michael Fassbender), who informs that Shaw is no more. However, when some members accidentally step on some alien spores, the crew soon find themselves up against threats beyond their imagination, leading to a harrowing escape to make it back to the Covenant alive. Director Ridley Scott does an excellent job with a riveting first act, firmly signaling that we have returned to the universe he created on board a gorgeously detailed and suitably styled spaceship with a close-knit crew. The opening third of the film is gripping, intriguing, and exciting. One of the main tasks Ridley Scott had while making this film was trying to make a film that wasn’t just a carbon copy of what had come before it. Scott does this by blending the ideas raised in Prometheus with the horror elements of his original Alien to create a bold new chapter that certainly raises more questions but leaves the door open rather intriguingly for at least another film in the franchise. Plus, this a far more action-oriented film than Prometheus and has enough jump scares and gore to please most Alien fans. A shower scene towards the end of the film is particularly effective and will likely put an end to relaxing shower sex for many people for good! In the 1st film, the chest-bursting scene was probably the most shocking scene, however, here he finds a way to crank up the gore with some inventive new ways of the aliens exiting their respective hosts not for the faint hearted. Sure, he was never going to be able to create as atmospheric a film like the original, the single location of that film playing a major part, but Scott shows some of his old form when creating a tense sequence, the initial facehugger attack being one of the most intense moments of the franchise, even though we know exactly what is coming. The film is slightly lacking in the character department when it comes to development, with only a few of them becoming more than just expendable alien food. With a large crew and a new alien running amok, I must say it was rather enjoyable watching how each of them would meet their grisly end. It feels as if the characters take a bit of a back seat to the creation vs evolution ideas that the film raises which, while it may alienate some audience members, drew me right in.
However, no sooner than the dust has settled on the first explosive setback for our heroes, the film chokes on a pass and fumbles the ball. The second act where David is reintroduced precedes a long, unfitting haunted house sequence that takes up most the film. Here the film reverts to the style and themes of Prometheus, a jarring shift from the body-horror that had set up this film’s unique identity. It instantly detracts from both the visual style and the story, thrusting us into a different time and place. It is the single most difficult part of this film to reconcile. Despite the general divisive reaction to Prometheus, it seems Ridley Scott is reluctant to abandon the ideas he seeded in the 2012 prequel. That being said there is still life in the “David” story arc, in fact, it’s quite convincing. Taking shelter in the mad doctor’s lair, our heroes are picked off one-by-one or lured away by the deluded David to be charmed to his ideas and forced to listen to his bleak, vengeful philosophy. David spends a lot of time with his compadre Walter, trying to convince him that they are one and the same, two brethren brought together by fate. The film even manages to weave in David’s unusual and twisted take on sex and love. A theme that was developed here is that of creation and creationism. The film finally explores an interesting concept not very developed in previous alien films: just like the Engineers would be the creators of humans, humans created androids, and this concept was further developed through the unveiling origins of the Xenomorphs. Yes, you guessed it right, the Xenomorphs or the Neomorphs here have been created by David which he describes as the perfect organism to ending all living things. Personally, I did think the evolution of David from this creepy robot to this manipulative evil being was done excellently, yet I did feel his reasoning to hate mankind seemed a little half baked. He even manages to lure the captain of the covenant to one of the unhatched eggs to be impregnated. Bearing in mind that David has already demonstrated enough mental instability by this point for which the captain should have shot him in the face. Instead, he decides to follow him down to the deep, dark cellar by himself with no-one knowing where he is, after which, he sticks his face right over one of the eggs which we know and love from original films. As I mentioned before, this film too is a visual treat, especially the first few sequences which quickly establishing an ambitious tone with elaborately conceived visuals. The production is as great as it can get, a marvelously realized vision & the design of the new Alien is both terrifying and fascinating. The action set-pieces are well-staged and have the right amount of freshness and yet could harken a fan back to the classic, especially in scenes like the flushing out of the alien onboard the ship and the closing of the hatches after them. Coming to the performances, the film possesses Michael Fassbender’s most dynamic performance yet. In a dual role, the subtle differences between the characters of David and Walter are very well played here. Fassbender made David the most watchable character in Prometheus and he easily repeats the trick here with a performance that conflict one another, his line delivery as David here in particular is just so ice cold that he becomes quite a chilling character. Among the rest, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup and Danny McBride are just about the only cast members who get a chance to show any character and they do so very well, while, Callie Hernandez, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo and Amy Seimetz are wasted. Noomi Rapace, James Franco & Guy Pearce have likable uncredited cameos here. On the whole, ‘Alien: Covenant’ is an enjoyable visual treat of action & terror let down by its muddled & flawed narration. Can we get the Neill Blomkamp (District 9) version starring Sigourney Weaver now?
Directed – Ridley Scott
Rated – R
Run Time – 122 minutes