15 – 123mins – 2017
THE DEVIL’S WORKSHOP
Five years ago, when movie maestro Ridley Scott returned to the monster franchise he spawned back in 1979, the reaction from fans and critics alike was decidedly… mixed. To me, 2012’s Prometheus was a beautifully filmed sci-fi epic which teased appetisingly at the grander mythos of the Alien saga while introducing deeper and more universally resonant themes about faith, creation and the dangers of answering the unanswerable. I loved it, and have proudly rewatched it many times since, floored every time by its grace and grandeur.
Judging by the reactions which came out on social media following last night’s preview screening of Scott’s latest prequel sequel, the discontent general public seem to be uncertain once more as to whether Alien: Covenant has corrected Prometheus’ perceived problems, or replicated them. I will nail my colours to the mast early and defiantly proclaim: I freakin’ adored it, as much as – if not more than – Prometheus.
The Covenant of the title is a colony ship 7 years out from the remote planet Origae-6. Aboard are 2,000 stasis-frozen colonists, 1,000 embryos and a crew of 15, including android Walter (Michael Fassbender, adopting an American accent to differentiate himself from David, the android he played in Prometheus). When a neutrino blast damages the ship’s sails and, tragically, takes out some of the colonists and burns their captain alive in his stasis pod, the newly-revived Oram (Billy Crudup) assumes the helm to see the ship repaired and back on course.
While administering maintenance to the hull, pilot Tennessee (a subdued Danny McBride) intercepts a human communication through his helmet. If a person has sent this message from a planet far closer than Origae-6, Oram reasons that it is undoubtedly a more desirable option. Despite the protests of second in command Daniels (Katherine Fantastic Beasts Waterston), the Covenant changes course to investigate the signal’s source.
What initially seems like a perfect paradise to set down a human colony, gradually reveals itself to be a costly mistake, starting with the discovery that the signal originated from the Engineer’s ship piloted by Elizabeth Shaw and David following the disastrous Prometheus mission ten years previous. When Ledward (Benjamin Rigby) and Hallet (Nathaniel Dean) both fall ill after intaking a mysterious spore, help comes from the most unlikely of heroes. But does the surviving crew’s saviour have an ulterior motive…?
As a fan of Prometheus’ world-building and philosophising, I was incredibly impressed with how Covenant pushed forward the narrative without overindulging in the theorising and moralising which turned some people off last time out. Covenant is a perfect hybrid of tense, bloody body horror and intelligent science fiction which benefits immensely from familiarity with its predecessor, despite initially appearing to be a slate-cleaning fresh start.
I was initially disappointed that Noomi Unlocked Rapace wasn’t returning as a main character, however the way in which her journey develops and is integrated into Covenant is immensely satisfying. Fassbender steals the show in a dual role which is so sinister at times it left me chilled. McBride relieved me insofar as he didn’t indulge in any O.T.T. comedy shtick, while Waterston’s emotive-but-defiant portrayal stomped all over her wet lettuce role in last year’s Harry Potter spin-off. The rest of cast, sadly, were rather dispensable – but at least they were dispensed in style!
The horror elements were exhilarating, bum-clenching and surprisingly brutal (head in the sink! Table dissection!), and only disappointed in the final on-ship showdown which felt a little too similar to what has come before. I did predict the concluding twist, but that in no way diminishes the impact of what is a tantalising tease for what lies ahead. Scott has promised multiple further adventures to bridge these prequels with the Alien Quadrilogy, with part three potentially shooting as soon as next summer. While I do fear too much of a good thing, while the films remain as fun, thrilling and thought-provoking as Alien: Covenant, I say bring them on!
CR@B’s Claw Score: