"competent filmmaking that’s not going to sweep any awards, but exists at a time where xenomorph CGI doesn’t look as unbelievably rubbish as Alien 3"
On first inspection it was unclear if Ridley Scott’s latest in the franchise would be more Alien or Prometheus. In truth, it’s a mash-up of both. Each uses their genre blueprint to forge a familiar story that layers Alien: Covenant with a degree of depth – a hybrid of films, one might say.
It threads very similar beats and, for the first and last third, is akin to the intensely grim, horror-slasher approach of Alien, with the filling of the xenomorph sandwich sprouting from Prometheus’s narrative.
It’s difficult to say if I really liked it. The movie’s not a mess but it’s no masterpiece, either. Thus, it’s no five-star classic as per Alien, nor is it a silly, unabashed, illogical farce like large portions of Prometheus. It lies somewhere in the middle, which makes it one of the better series instalments.
For the most part it is very good and it simply works. By midway you’ll be engaged enough with its characters to care – mainly because some are couples and it adds an additional emotive element, especially when one half of a relationship is lost. But it still feels like there’s a lot of nameless faces on the periphery that are just there as cannon fodder which cheapens the experience a little.
Yet it’s its final third that’s perhaps my qualm in terms of how satisfactory I found Covenant. It doesn’t even boarder on the spectacular and underwhelms to a degree. It’s more high-spec than Ripley punching the shit out of a Queen xenomorph but just isn’t as good.
Michael Fassbender’s predictably encapsulating, with a challenging set of roles he fulfils with his usual skill. Yet its Katherine Waterson who feels like the film’s MVP – a 21st Century Ellen Ripley in the making is certainly heavy-handed in its pursuit, but she’s comes across as tough enough by the end to warrant the plaudits. Her character develops as the narrative does, which at least gives us some intelligent, no nonsense approach rather than idiotic decisions that make audiences scream at the screen.
To its credit, Covenant is full of ideas but maybe there’s too much stuffed in there to mull over. Alien didn’t convolute with a number of narratives and grandiose, existential themes that forced you to internally discuss before moving forward; it kept things clean and simple while effortlessly saying plenty. Here, there’s a helluva lot to process with its overarching ideas and individual threads that can overwhelm somewhat.
The ending, however, is solid and twisty, as it makes way for the next film. Thankfully, Covenant works much nicer as a horror than a plain old sci-fi adventure, so the jumps and tension elevates from its predecessor significantly which is a relief (despite being in the midst of terror) and the fact it’s been given a 15 certificate helps.
As a whole, Alien: Covenant is competent filmmaking that’s not going to sweep any awards, but exists at a time where xenomorph CGI doesn’t look as unbelievably rubbish as Alien 3. After Scott’s impressive comeback with The Martian – on the back of a series of dull and messy movies over the past decade - one cannot help but feel he’s just not the visionary he once was as he tends to sparkle less frequently nowadays. Regardless of being in his directorial twilight years, he still manages to walk the walk when it comes to competing with his modern day peers.