Alien: Covenant (aka Alien: Paradise Lost) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant is a compromise for the franchise, trying to deliver both the philosophical examinations of alien life and the sci-fi slasher pic fans have come to expect from an Alien movie. It almost seems as though he’s trying to offer an apology for Prometheus, trying to rework his new trilogy to better service those who came for the Xenomorphs. You’ll get Xenomorphs with Covenant; a lot of them. But you’ll also get some more of that smart and thoughtful writing that Scott had previously established. No reason to go full-blown blockbuster stupid to please a broader audience.
The Starship Covenant is venturing into deep space, on a mission to a new planet to establish a new colony. It’s not exactly the most reliable of ships, however, when it encounters a storm and hinders the internal mechanics of the ship. Namely, the sleep pods for preserving light during long journeys malfunctions and one of them explodes into flames. The ship’s crew, awakened to address the situation, are not exactly eager to hop back in their pods to continue the journey. The prospect of colonizing a nearby planet that is unexplored but exhibits an environment suitable for human life seems very tempting. Nearly the entire crew votes to give it a look, but a few think it’s a bad idea. The most vocally against the decision is Daniels (Katherine Waterston), and that’s saying something for the widow of the recently deceased man in the pod. She’s seen enough sci-fi horror pictures to know there’s nothing good waiting for them on that mysterious planet.
Daniels accompanies a group down to the planet, aided by the ship’s android crew member, Walter (Michael Fassbender). You may recall that the previous film featured the android David, also played by Fassbender. The crew is surprised to find that the long-lost David is on this planet and he’s been busy. Having been inspired by those giant, pale aliens from Prometheus, he’s had a lot of time to think about life and all its little details and philosophies. Without giving too much away, let’s just say he’s become preoccupied with the new title of mad scientist.
The planetary mission comes with plenty of horror elements with Xenomorphs doing what they do best. The long-headed creatures manifest themselves in human bodies, burst from chest cavities, swipe with their tales, claw their enemies and munch on their flesh. These scenes are delightfully brutal in their presentation, made all the eerier from a creepy and haunting soundtrack. This includes a terrifying outbreak in a lab, a cave of facehuggers, a battle aboard a landing ship and a breakneck strategy of outwitting a Xenomorph in a ship interior.
But the best scenes are without question the ones that Fassbender shares with, well, himself. David has a wealth of knowledge to divulge on his many years of isolation and study, to which he imparts on Walter. Their android-to-android discussions are intelligent, philosophical and intriguing far more than the humans barking orders at each other. It’s surprising to see this level intelligence in writing for what essentially amounts to a series of action scenes with humans running and gunning aliens down spaceship corridors.
Covenant is as maddening, smart and disturbing as Prometheus, though more serviceable towards an audience that gets a little bored with the philosophical babble about creating new species among the stars. Not all the dots quite connect, as there isn’t much explanation why Xenomorph eggs would be produced when there is no queen to lay them. There’s even a telegraphed twist for those with a keen movie eye. Still, Ridley Scott proves he still has a handle on directing horror science fiction by delivering a unique film that adds a little more class to the Alien franchise, despite a return to the basics of what made it the more thrilling depiction by James Cameron.