Alien: Covenant Review- The Plot
20th Century Fox's Alien: Covenant begins in the year 2104 and the Covenant, a colonisation ship, is bound for the remote planet of Origae-6 carrying 2000 colonists and a thousand embryos ready to inhabit the planet. The ship is hit by a shock wave from a new star that inflicts severe damage to the ship and kills a number of the colonists including the ship’s captain. The remaining members of the crew- first mate Oram (Billy Crudup), Tennessee (Danny McBride), Daniels (Katherine Waterston) and android Walter (Michael Fassbender)- pick up a radio transmission from a nearby planet and decide to investigate.
The planet seems perfect for human colonisation enforcing the crew’s decision to investigate but it isn’t long before the crew discover the planet’s terrible secret. Two of the security team are infected with alien spores resulting in an alien creature, neomorph, to burst out of them and cause an explosion that destroys the landing ship. The remaining crew are rescued by David (also played by Michael Fassbender), who survived the Prometheus mission, and taken to a city of humanoid corpses where the android David tells the crew of the failed previous mission. The crew quickly learn of David’s experiments and attempt to escape to the safety of the Covenant orbiting the deadly planet.
Alien: Covenant’s aesthetic shell combines the luxurious visual style of 2012’s Prometheus and the bleak-gritty quality of the original Alien to produce an engrossing montage of detailed CGI and jaw-dropping scenes. Director, Ridley Scott’s visual commentary of splicing and dicing works well with the icy trepidation of the uninhabited planet setting a backdrop for the bridging story between Prometheus and Alien. Scott attempts to blend fan’s favourite Alien associations- alien hugged faces, badass female leads, bursting chests and terrorised crew members – with the exploration of deeper themes like the question of creation and also the theme of survival, but more along the lines of integrating movies like Terminator and The Matrix in a way of survival against machines. Scott’s brilliant visual crafting is accompanied by an eclipsing musical score from Jed Kurzel who incorporates the restless and fractioned characteristics of the classical score from the previous franchise movies with its own unsettling and terrifying beat that intertwines the story superbly.
At points, Scott’s visual ideas don’t quite translate with a few scenes unable to grasp the audience’s visual creativity to fully interpret Scott’s goal. Scott misses the mark in keeping the tension throughout the film, unlike that of Alien, and the kills though horrific and reminiscent of the franchise lack a little bit of imagination. However, Covenant does serve as a virtuous upgrade from Prometheus with some intense scenes worthy of skin-shaking onslaughts of ambuscading aliens.
The Crew and Aliens
Prometheus boasted a bunch of over-the-top narcotic characters that lacked any depth to hold their own in the storytelling. In this film, the crew consists of 15 personnel compared to the original Alien where it was only 8 which gave that film opportunity to give the audience constructed and developed characters. Covenant’s crew on the surface lack distinction and it’s only a small few that attract any attention.
Katherine Waterston playing Daniels was always going to be a tough ask with obvious comparisons going to be made with Sigourney Weaver’s unsubdued Ripley and even rumours of a possible parental heritage. A strong female protagonist role needed a strong believable performance to carry the mantle of alien ass-kicker and Waterstone succeeded as she carried her own flow in this film. Under the cloud of Ripley, Waterstone carved her own character in Daniels which whilst being unique simultaneously streamed with the familiar franchise arc for the female lead.
Danny McBride as the ship’s pilot, Tennessee, also successfully stood out as his uncharacteristically conventional dramatic portrayal was a welcomed surprise. His straight edge non-comedic role is fully unexpected which in turn leaves the audience in a state of awe with his very different role.
However, the MVP of the film is Michael Fassbender, he plays not one but two significant roles with in Covenant. He plays both Dave and Walter, who are very different characters, and he manages to be funny, a touch camp and creepy at the same time. Fassbender provides an interesting character relationship between the two android synthetics, whereby he is pitted against himself fundamentally but portrays a differential dynamic that is hard to turn away and which is emphasised by the fact that the Dave and Walter kiss. Notably it is Fassbender’s Dave that is the talk of the movie as the android mad-scientist is a deviant antagonist that lurks in the shadows and utters romantic poetry in the disguise of a helpful-rescuer instead of the more sinister chest-bursting, flesh-ripping beasts themselves.
There would, of course, be no Alien movie without the genre-defining aliens and Alien: Covenant has all the fan favourites but just better versions, a better formula. A new breed of aliens terrorises the characters and it’s a nasty piece of work, a new-born alien that vibes as a vicious Baby Groot, is a welcomed addition to the alien horde. The regular Neomorphs also get a fierce upgrade as they leap and dash more agile than their predecessors more akin to the Velociraptors of Jurassic World.
A Concluding Thought
Alien: Covenant is not a perfect specimen of the Alien franchise. However, in the now quite large run of Alien movies- which consists of two prequels and also two spin-offs- Covenant definitely ranks as one of the better films. It still heavily falls short of the classic. It does however, hold it’s own foundation as a good sci-fi horror and it is a worthy companion in the franchise outshining other franchise entries such as its predecessor, Prometheus and the awful Aliens vs Predators.
The music is masterful as the planet is personified with deadly silence with petrified crackles and cries orchestrated by the flesh-hunting nightmares. The film is full of stocky dialogue far from the naturalistic banter that made Alien so good and gritty. Alien: Covenant seems to be a film made to address the issues that Prometheus brought and with it develop plot threads bridging a gap to the original Alien. Ridley Scott’s lack of original imagination and new ideas seems to be the dwindling light of this once iconic franchise and may be time to call it a day.