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Review: Alien: Covenant (2017) — A Chest-Bursting Return to Form for the Xenomorphs

Luke Miksa finds out if Alien: Covenant has what it takes to return a long mediocre franchise to past glory.

Alien-Covenant

Following 2012’s disappointing Prometheus, director Ridley Scott returns to the well once again, continuing the origin story of the Alien franchise with Alien: Covenant; a series which began all the way back in 1979 with horror classic Alien, launching Scott’s career in the progress.

Alien Covenant crew 2

Not a spoiler: Most of these people die.

The year is 2104 — fifteen years since the events of Prometheus — and the colony ship Covenant is carrying two-thousand colonists and human embryos to the remote planet Origae-6. After a devastating neutrino storm hits the ship, the crew is woken from their stasis by the synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender), who was overseeing the trip on its extended journey. The crew, including new captain Oram (Billy Crudup), scientist Daniels (Katherine Waterston), pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride), and security Lope (Demian Bichir), intercept a human transmission from a nearby planet, and decide to investigate the source. Once on the surface, the crew must begin a desperate escape when they find out that there are more dangers on the planet than first expected, but not before dealing with the source of the transmission: the wreck of an Engineer ship, which was piloted by Elizabeth Shaw and synthetic David from the Prometheus mission.

I guess you could say I am a fan of many of the Alien films, so within that context my expectations were admittedly low for Alien: Covenant simply due to the mediocre quality of most of the entries. It’s true. And that’s not even counting the Alien vs. Predator movies.

The good news is that Alien: Covenant is quite good, possibly the best Alien film since James Cameron’s 1986 epic Aliens. Covenant not only carries on the philosophical themes from Prometheus, but combines it with the classic horror from the ’79 original. It’s the perfect alchemy of both eras and attitudes, combined with a satisfying level of gore consistent with modern horror.

But let’s talk about how unbelievably good Michael Fassbender is in this movie. Playing the dual synthetic roles of David and Walter, Fassbender’s supreme acting chops are on display. The way he imbues life into two completely different characters is impressive, made more so by the fact that they aren’t even human. The interplay between his characters is edited perfectly, really highlighting and showcasing the dichotomy of the Machiavellian David and the earnestly loyal Walter.

Alien Covenant Neomorph

Yeah, gory.

The production design is largely based around the legacy of H.R. Giger, so obviously it is amazing. His work can be found in the Xenomorphs, the Derelict, and Facehuggers; plus his designs are naturally expanded on with a new Alien design: the Neomorph. Giger’s avant-garde, gothic style is abundant, and his work lives on after death.

The deeper philosophical themes of Alien: Covenant not only expand upon the ones seen in Prometheus, but are actually presented in a way that integrates better with the Alien mythology. In the film’s prologue, we see a flashback to the synthetic David becoming self-aware for the first time, sharing a moment with his ‘father’, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce). It is in this moment that David learns not only of Weyland’s desire to discover the origins of humanity, but discovers his own sense of superiority over humans. This scene sets the stage for David’s motivations throughout the entire film, culminating with the creation of the classic Xenomorph.

Alien Covenant crew

More human than human.

This thematic journey reminded me of another classic Ridley Scott film; one where replicants — very similar to the synthetics seen in the Alien universe — begin to fight back against their creators. With Alien: Covenant, I do believe Scott made a hybrid of his two greatest films: Alien and Blade Runner. And it actually fits!

The one thing going against all of this world-building? The ambiguity of the originals is now lost. Long-standing mysteries of the series such as the origin of the Derelict or the Space Jockey were explained with Prometheus, and expanded further within Covenant. The Xenomorphs are not the simple, hive-minded extraterrestrials we always assumed. Is this a good thing? I can see both sides.

Whether you think Ridley Scott‘s game of Alien-show-and-tell is too much, you can’t deny that Alien: Covenant is technically and thematically satisfying. It was a difficult task to create an appropriate and logical prequel to Alien, to expand upon a mythology that may have well been left alone. But it did happen. It was bound to happen eventually. And I liked what I saw.

Llama Score: 8Alien: Covenant had a hard task: Not only in lofty expectations left behind by Alien and Aliens, but in improving upon the disappointment of Prometheus. Against the grain, I really liked it. It’s a film that actually makes Prometheus better, with the potential disadvantage of slightly watering down the vision of the classics. If we’re ranking the Alien movies here, it’ll be an easy — albeit distant — third.

 

Award: RecycleAward: Stan Winston

Highlights Banner

  • Plenty of gruesome Alien kills for the gore-hounds.
  • Tremendous double-performance from Michael Fassbender.
  • Outstanding philosophy and world-building.
  • Your Highness reunion?

Lowlights Banner

  • A scene with Walter and David featured a bunch of unintentional humour.
  • The Chestburster doing a little dance on ‘birth’.
  • Franchise tropes: Smart people doing stupid things, and inclement weather causing communication issues. Lazy.

Further Viewing Banner

  • Alien (1979)
  • Aliens (1986)
  • Prometheus (2012)
Directed by: Ridley Scott Written by: John Logan, Dante Harper Produced by: Ridley Scott, Mark Huffam, Michael Schaefer, David Giler, Walter Hill Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir Distributed by: 20th Century Fox Run length: 123 minutes Australian Release: Out now in all major cinemas

 

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