Film Review: Alien: Covenant

Sequels, remakes, prequels, re-imaginings, reboots… it’s getting to be a bit overwhelming. In fact, at any given moment, the amount of unoriginal films (films falling under any of the above topics alongside anything based on a book or videogame) usually outweighs the amount of original work in theatres – a sad state on our current crop of cinema. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re all negative. This is one that I had some faith in with Ridley Scott in the director’s chair once again and a talented cast coming together.

The film centers around a new group of colonists led by a team including Walter (Michael Fassbender), an advanced version of David from Prometheus; Daniels (Katherine Waterston), a terraforming expert and wife of the ship’s original captain; Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), a man of faith who must take charge; and Tennessee (Danny McBride), the pilot of the ship. There are many others but way too many to list. Anyway, after a monumental tragedy that sees a major malfunction and many crew members perishing, the ship makes a brief excursion when they receive a signal involving some indecipherable human contact.

It feels like I have sat through countless iterations of movies surrouding aliens, predators and various other creatures of a similar ilk. At one point, it got so that I was absolutely finished with the films and Predators ended up being the last straw. Luckily, Prometheus breathed some new life into the series by exploring the mythology and the background of the alien phenomena rather than just doing more of the same. It could be argued upon reading this plot that this one might be more of the same but for the most part, it felt more like a continuation of where Prometheus left off with new characters but the same connecting thread that holds them together.

One major aspect of this film and Prometheus that make these films work well is Michael Fassbender, who takes on two roles in this film: that of David from Prometheus and a new advanced model in this film called Walter. Fassbender is a wonderful actor and gives so much humanity to two characters that are essentially synthetic. Though neither of them are the main characters in this film, he often feels like the focal point and takes command of the screen every time he’s on it. Notice the differences between the performances too. It’s not just an actor doing an accent for one character to make them sound different. Everything they do is different: the way in which they speak, body language and even the way they walk. As for the rest of the cast, it’s always good to see Billy Crudup in a movie and he has a complicated character that he gets to do a lot with – you’re never quite sure if you should root for him but he is usually just a guy put in a bad situation who does what is necessary. Katherine Waterston could’ve just been this movie’s Ripley but she tries hard to step outside of that. She is effective but definitely overshadowed a bit by some of the heavyweights I previously mentioned. Danny McBride is the biggest surprise here; you would expect him to be the comic relief but outside of a couple of light chuckles, he plays it completely straight and pulls it off well.

The action sequences in the film are quite good and there is a decent mix of CGI and practical effects, especially when it comes to the design of the aliens themselves. There was some motion-capture done on-set so it gives off the idea that the actors are usually at least watching someone move around rather than a ball on a stick with the effects added in later in post-production; it actually does make a huge difference. There is a particularly inspired attack sequence in which alien babies are popping out of the grass and attacking that was a lot of fun but one that sticks out head and shoulders above the rest is the climactic fight. I won’t give too much away about that except to say that it’s always nice to go back to the classics. Oh, and you want gore? There are buckets of blood here. We get the face-huggers squeezing the life out of people, chest-bursting, bodies being hollowed out and some robot goo. I suppose another thing that makes these scenes work so well is that the film never for one second does anything in a campy way. It takes itself seriously for essentially the entire film unlike some of the later Alien and Predator movies that unsuccessfully tried to ham it up and just ended up looking cheap.

I do have some concerns with the film and most of them revolve around the pacing. I found that the first half-hour or so did seem to lag a bit and the film does spend a lot of time with long scenes of dialogue that could have been excised almost completely. In fact, I would say that the movie could have lost a good 10 minutes or so without sacrificing too much. That isn’t too much of a detracting factor though as there are so many other aspects that hold the film above water and make for a very entertaining watch.

I actually thought I would give this a slightly lower rating but having given it more thought since earlier this afternoon, I’ve turned a corner. Enjoy it, folks.

RATING: ****

 

Rating System:

Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)

* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)

** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)

*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)

**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)

***** (Flawless; a true achievement)