Alien: Covenant (15)
Running time 2hr 2mins
AMONG the great pleasures of the Alien mythos has been its versatility – to pair a ‘sci-fi slasher movie’ (Alien) with a Heinleinian monster mash (Aliens) could not have worked in any other context, but the taut, competent direction of Ridley Scott and James Cameron decisively won the day. Though the last few cinematic efforts (namely David Fincher’s Alien 3 and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection) have left much to be desired, they nevertheless stand testament to the devilish flexibility of the series – there’s the nucleus of a scary, original idea here which, through all the duds and disappointments, ensures its longevity.
As evidenced in its polarised reception, nobody knew quite how to take 2012’s Prometheus, a belated reimagining-cum-prequel just as we’d all given up hope on ever seeing the Xenomorph again. Sir Ridley was back in the driver’s seat (hooray), but the lore, a philosophical riff which posed infinitely more questions than answers, was something a bit too
far divorced from Alien’s populist body-horror (“in space, no one can hear you scream”). At any rate, it laid the foundations for SOMETHING.
That ‘something’, it was to transpire, was Alien: Covenant. Scott being, of course, one of Britain’s greatest living directors, the sixth film in the franchise cannot help but be watchable; as in its predecessor, the cast (including Katherine Waterston, turgidly billed the ‘new Ripley’) give their all. The effort of Michael Fassbender, a refugee from the last film, breathes vital life into this otherwise dismal vision, and he makes good here on an enhanced screen presence,
channelling once again a morbid, enigmatic cool.
But Covenant is a painful exhibition of the series’ lethargy, its lack of a real creative impetus. Its underlying lore having been stretched every which way by previous instalments (culminating in Prometheus, which didn’t even HAVE to be an Alien flick), the film is unsure of what to do with itself, eventually settling into a rehash of the same old motifs and situations. Nihilistic social commentary? Check. Explosions of grisly, inexplicable carnage? It’s all here. Facehuggers, chestbursters and nasty-things galore? One need not even ask …
Some stuff is bound to impress, even rivet. The reworked Xenomorph is a thing of vile, glistening beauty, and Covenant does a good job in conjuring a bleak, barren planetary landscape, the perfect antidote to the excruciating colour and noise of recent sci-fi blockbusters. The action, WHEN it hits (the film is content to keep us waiting, biding its time aboard the titular starship for just under an hour), hits hard – this critic will never get over the raw horror implicit in a well-staged chest-bursting, and Covenant, to spare us all the gory details, most certainly delivers. But it’s a project which, like its insectoid antagonist, lives parasitically off that which made its early forerunners great and unforgettable – the sense of déjà vu is so thick in parts that you could cut it with a Weyland-Yutani-issue space-blaster. Moreover, viewers of Prometheus are warned not to come looking for answers – by the end of Covenant, we still have little idea as to, y’know, what’s ACTUALLY going on …