The Alien franchise has been gracing the silver screen for nearly 40 years, and the newest entry from Ridley Scott, while not breaking any new ground, is a nice throwback to the original entry in the franchise, which adopts the old style of a haunted-house film set in outer space. He also gets great performances out of a talented cast and has several memorable images and scare scenes to offer, and that’s kind of what this franchise is all about. Let’s get to the review.
Set 10 years after Prometheus (2012), which, by the way, I haven’t seen, so a few scenes lost me, a team of colonists are heading for a distant planet. But when things go wrong, the captain is killed partway through the trip and the next in-line is almost immediately forced to make a decision when a call comes in from a nearby system, one that the crew overlooked when looking for an inhabitable planet. When they land there, however, the peaceful place in image doesn’t hold up and thing get dangerous as the crew is stalked and killed one by one by alien creatures, both classic and new.
First off, any scenes that refer to Prometheus I can’t really criticize because I haven’t seen it, and that’s on me. I know a few people who skipped out on Prometheus who then saw this one and wouldn’t stop bitching about being confused and hated the movie because of it. Well, I can promise you I won’t be that guy. For the strengths of the film I gotta start with the visuals. The cinematography and production design are gorgeous. The looks of the planet might be looking like a real-life location but there’s that alien feel (har-har) that makes it look different and feel different. Also the interiors and exteriors of the ships look cool, kind of reminding me of Passengers (2016), which I felt was a nod to H.R. Giger, who of course famously contributed to the first film, and Alien: Covenant also has its nods to him, and they’re very appropriate here. Also the cast does a pretty good job for a slasher film set on another planet, especially Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride, but especially for Michael Fassbender, who has a very interesting role as a synthetic. The alien attack and kill scenes are very memorable, especially the first couple, which come from a different kind of alien and not the classic xenomorph. Most slasher films just get competent performances out of the cast, but not Alien: Covenant. Obviously it’s not a straight-up slasher, but the great performances from the standouts are what separate it. Ridley Scott also has some well-directed moments, like the landing on the planet and the first walk. Almost immediately we’re all wrapped up in tension because we know it’s not gonna go well, and we’re on the edge of our seats waiting to see what mistakes the characters will make that lead us to the xenomorphs.
That all being said, there’s problems. While I did just say that tension was built up, once we got to the planet and the attacks start, the film enters the formulaic areas where you have set-ups and kills, set-ups and kills and so on and so forth. Predictable. Another thing, especially in the third act, the plot can’t move forward without some very smart characters that have, for the most part, made no dumb decisions doing the unthinkably stupid. I bought the whole idea of why they’d want to change plans so quickly since being in hyperspace led to their captain being killed so going back into it isn’t in their interests, but what some of theses guys and gals do in the third act was truly maddening. It’s like they were replaced by horny and curious teens from the Nightmare on Elm Street series, and again the only reason they’re doing this is because the story has written itself into a corner where the carnage can’t continue without these dumb decisions. Also there’s a couple of twists late in the third act that bordered, for me, on the nearly impossible to pull off. I won’t go into details in case you haven’t seen the film yet, but once you see the film you’ll know what I’m talking about.
You know, one thing that I love about horror franchises like Friday the 13th (1980-2009) or Halloween (1978-present) is that every once in a while you have an entry in the franchise that just gets back to the basics of what the series is about. That’s about the best way to describe Alien: Covenant. And I think after the original series ended in flames with Alien 3 (1992) and Alien: Resurrection (1997) and the abominable Alien vs. Predator films and then with the mixed reception of Prometheus, this is exactly what the doctor ordered. It’s a return to form for the arguably dying franchise that hopefully will revive it, but with that comes a film that also has its flaws, and to an extent that is expected. I’m not gonna go out there and say the original Alien (1979) is absolutely perfect, but still Alien: Covenant is a welcome addition to the franchise and a fun popcorn film, as long as you can take the more graphic moments.