Five years after Prometheus polarised critics and fans alike, Ridley Scott returns to the Alien series with a more traditional installment. This allows for a film that succeeds in adding interesting details to the mythology of the franchise, but does so by sacrificing the more original elements of the previous entry.
Indeed, while there are certainly thrills to be had in watching the iconic Xenomorph let loose on an unwitting group of colonists, there is an overwhelming sense that much of what is on display here has been seen before. This is particularly glaring in the film’s final act, which fans of the franchise will instantly recognise.
Equally problematic is the cast of characters assembled here, who for the most part feel rather bland. The benchmark for character development in this franchise remains James Cameron’s Aliens, which spends a full hour establishing an interesting cast before jumping into the first action sequence.
It takes less than an hour for the action to start in Alien: Covenant, but notably feels a lot longer. The opening act drags by as only Katherine Waterston’s Daniels and Michael Fassbender’s Walter are of any real interest, but bursts into life upon the arrival of Fassbender’s other character: lone remaining survivor of the Prometheus mission, David.
It cannot be understated just how much the character of David brings to the table here. He is not only the most interesting element of the film by a significant margin, but also perhaps one of the best characters this franchise has ever produced. This is helped by an absolutely phenomenal performance by Fassbender, who is tasked with acting opposite himself on numerous occasions and does so masterfully.
His arrival comes shortly after the first Xenomorph attack, a genuinely thrilling sequence which sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The latter half of Alien: Covenant is remarkably strong, maintaining a gripping level of mystery and suspense which was sorely absent in the first.
Certain characters also come into their own at this point, particularly Tennessee Faris (Danny McBride) and Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) who each are dealt some compelling material. Katherine Waterston delivers a solid performance in the lead, but ultimately pales in comparison to previous Alien heroines Noomi Rapace and Sigourney Weaver.
At the age of seventy-nine, Ridley Scott is still at the top of his game. Covenant‘s action sequences are expertly directed and bursting with tension, with one particular sequence involving the engineers from Prometheus providing some haunting imagery that won’t be easily forgotten. The film is largely dependent on its visual effects, which for the most part are of an excellent standard, although occasionally the Xenomorph animation is a little wonky.
Alien: Covenant is both a solid follow-up to 2012’s Prometheus and another serviceable entry into the main Alien franchise. It fumbles out of the gate with a plodding first act which is hindered by some forgettable characters, although later succeeds at redeeming itself due in no small part by the work of Michael Fassbender. His characters bring some fascinating ideas to the table, and will hopefully draw focus from the more familiar elements of the franchise, which are at risk of becoming stale.