It would be fair to say that 2013’s Prometheus failed to answer most of the questions which have been bugging fans of Alien since the very beginning. This meant that there was a lot riding on Alien: Covenant, which from the beginning has been billed as a more direct feed into the original franchise.
Little throwbacks to the old films can be found; Daniels (a very impressive Katherine Waterston) draws obvious comparisons with Ellen Ripley, while the iconic title appearance from the 1979 film resurfaces here. Most importantly, however, the iconic Xenomorph is back – along with one or two other peculiar creatures.
Waterston plays one of fifteen crew members aboard the Covenant, a colony ship bound for a distant habitable world. They go off track to investigate a strange transmission – again, comparisons with the first film are glaringly obvious – and stumble across another planet. This ends up being a big episode for Waterston and co. of not-so-fantastic beasts and how to not find them. Compared to the somewhat straight-faced Prometheus, there is even room for some joking around. Covenant is, overall, a more enjoyable affair than its predecessor.
The crew also find David, a lone android and the sole survivor of the Prometheus ship who meets his doppelganger in fellow robot Walter (both played by Michael Fassbender) which sets up an impressive M. Night Shyamalan-ic twist in the film’s dying seconds. This relationship is by far the most interesting, if at times a bit strange, as they engage in conversations about creation, life and how to play the flute.
Covenant has its fair share of gory moments – an attempt to emulate the sheer shock value which made the emergence of the original alien so unnerving. The Neomorph (the midget brother of H.R. Giger’s genius creation) is more into back-shredding and throat-exploding rather than chest-bursting. It is terrifying, but in a very different way. The panic generated when the creature attacks is palpable, and you are whipped into the same kind of frenzy as the crew of the Covenant. Scott is still a master of suspense and scares.
Disappointingly, however, the Xenomorph will not have you cowering in your seat in the same way. There is great pleasure coming from seeing it on the big screen in a context outside Alien V.S. Predator, but it is nothing other than what fans would expect the Alien to be like. There are no surprises with it, and it simply isn’t scary. The same kind of tension which is built up and up in Alien, or even the adrenaline rush provided by Aliens, is not mustered.
It’s not that the Alien is not scary anymore. The phenomenal video game Alien: Isolation proves how terrifying the beast can be even now. But this kind of heart-pounding fear is simply missing from Alien: Covenant, which struggles to live up to its ancestry.
In fact, Covenant is largely unsatisfying. It is tasked with two things: to follow on from the story of Prometheus and to emulate the original Alien. But even succeeding in both, Covenant provides virtually nothing new to sink your teeth into, the exception being a host of characters who are killed off too soon to be interesting. Most disappointingly, for all the billing that the Xenomorph got in the run-up to this film, it doesn’t appear until well past the hour mark.
Covenant ultimately improves upon its predecessor, but still ends up being hit-and-miss. It has its scary moments, and there are more than a couple of strong performances. But in paying tribute to the past, this newest addition to the Alien franchise has a real problem with originality and surprise.
Image: Gage Skidmore
All films reviewed at Cineworld, Edinburgh.