ALIEN: COVENANT (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sci-Fi Violence, Bloody Images, Language and some Sexuality/Nudity

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Written by: John Logan & Dante Harper

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo & Amy Seimetz

The ALIEN franchise has had ups and downs. Ridley Scott created 1979’s ALIEN as a creature feature that featured A-list talent and nightmarish scares. James Cameron took 1986’s ALIENS in an entirely different, more action-packed direction and wound up with one of the best sequels of all-time. Then Fox screwed up ALIEN 3 with endless meddling and ALIEN: RESURRECTION felt like goofy fan fiction on the big screen. Ridley Scott returned to the series that he created with PROMETHEUS, a prequel that was divisive among fans. Personally, I loved it. ALIEN: COVENANT falls marginally below PROMETHEUS and far above the third and fourth installments in the series. This is a good time that hits familiar beats, but contains enough originality to be compelling, creepy and entertaining!

Set between the events of PROMETHEUS and ALIEN, COVENANT follows the crew of the titular spaceship Covenant. Aboard this massive spacecraft are lots of hibernating colonists and a handful of crew members to ensure that the mission goes safely. However, the smooth sailing takes a dangerous turn when a power surge erupts and results in some casualties. Not exactly eager to jump back into possibly faulty sleep pods, the crew receives a signal from a nearby planet that seems perfect for colonization. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Soon enough, body-bursting aliens are running around, androids are pondering the meaning of their existence, and bloody horror ensues.

At certain points in its plot, COVENANT seems content to repeat familiar beats that worked in previous installments. There are visceral frights in the vein of the 1979 original, action-oriented scenes that echo excitement from 1986’s sequel, and ambition that was seen in PROMETHEUS. Though pieces of the plot are predictable, Ridley Scott effectively toys with the viewer’s expectations. For an ALIEN film, COVENANT takes a sweet amount of time giving explanations and touching on the dark mythology of the Xenomorphs. The serves as a direct sequel to PROMETHEUS (I won’t spoil any of the nasty specifics or surprises) and also had me wondering where the hell certain developments were heading (in a good way).

COVENANT falters when it comes to the victims, er, I mean characters. It’s clear that most of these people are only here so that more gory kills are included in the body count. While that was the case with earlier films in the franchise, those characters’ deaths meant something because we cared about them. The same cannot be said for many of the folks in COVENANT. Katherine Waterston gives the best performance as the strong female lead and her character seemed like a more vulnerable version of Ripley. Meanwhile, Michael Fassbender shines as new android Walter and Prometheus survivor David.

The rest of the characters are either bland or stereotypes. Danny McBride seems to be giving his all in this film, but his character’s personality only seems to consist of a cowboy hat and love for country music. Meanwhile, Billy Crudup plays the self-centered mission captain as a one-dimensional scumbag. There are attempts to flesh him out as being religious and a scientist, but these points feel half-assed and underdeveloped. He also makes the single stupidest decision in the entire film. It’s eye-rollingly terrible. To make matters worse, certain lines of dialogue feel unnatural as characters frequently identify their relationships with each other. The words “my wife” are used to the point of annoyance and this keeps occurring in order to remind us that there are couples in the crew. It doesn’t elevate any emotional impact when heads literally roll and people have creatures bursting out of their bodies though.

Budgeted at a whopping 97 million (about 30 million less than PROMETHEUS), CONVENANT looks amazing. The settings are brought to life with real locations and fantastic special effects. There are many haunting images in this film that far surpass the material at points, kind of like PROMETHEUS did in many respects. The various Xenomorphs are all appropriately freaky and fun to watch, even when the final third of the film boils down to a condensed version of ALIEN. The money is clearly on the screen and the production values are spectacular!

Even though it repeats familiar beats from the series’ best moments and half of the characters seem worthless, ALIEN: COVENANT is still a solid film in the long-running science-fiction/horror franchise. This sequel/prequel answers questions that people were left when PROMETHEUS concluded and leaves enough mysteries for future installments (supposedly two more movies are in the works). The story and visuals combine bold ideas with ghoulish spectacle. I imagine that COVENANT won’t exactly win over people who despised PROMETHEUS. If (like me) you were a fan of that film and enjoy the ALIEN series (in spite of its weaker entries), COVENANT is a lot of fun and delivers the chills that we’ve come to crave from these films.

Grade: B+

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