Reviewed: Alien Covenant (2017, Ridley Scott)

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Director: Ridley Scott

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katharine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Returning for the third time to the franchise he helped create, director Ridley Scott has effectively continued the Alien legacy. A sequel to the troubled Prometheus (fans were not too pleased with the different direction taken) and a prequel to the wider Alien universe, Covenant manages to blur components of both film styles, into a fuse that mostly works in expanding the series mythology.

As a sequel/prequel to other films, Alien Covenant has to manage two contrasting styles of film within its two hour duration. Thankfully Scott’s expert direction allows for an organic transition of the past, which resonates in a workable, enjoyable and watchable film. However in achieving a blend of two different science fiction standards, Alien Covenant does carry a tonal change around two thirds in, which at first can seem to be disjointed to the wider narrative arc. Where Alien Covenant works best however, is in developing the wider mythology of the franchise, continuing on from the unanswered questions presented within the earlier Prometheus. Not necessarily as mysterious as this film was, Alien Covenant manages to objectively answer some of the unknown qualities of the earlier prequel, while also setting unknown points to be explored further alone the filmic timeline.

Where the plot continues the exploits of Prometheus with a new crew, past characters return and with them pose a different angle from which to observe their behaviour – that being from the viewpoint of the Covenant crew. The plot does struggle in places to create tension for its characters, instead relying on past understanding from the audience to draw in the excitement of the character arcs and development. As a science fiction adventure film, the plot is of a high quality but does confused with the marketing formed, on stating that this film is a return to the horror aesthetic of the first Alien film – which it simply is not. More concerned with the wider franchise ideas of the acclaimed director, (with a reported 5 sequels already planned) Alien Covenant seems to actively place its characters in peril, so as to drive the plot forward. This means that once again the narrative dictates character decisions that are poor and rather laughable upon reflection.

Michael Fassbender returns once more to this franchise, and one again delights as the films MVP. Performing his android role with a non humanoid quality, the effect gained in his inclusion is a quality to the depiction of a robot, and a mysterious undertone that consumes his entire character. Having easily the most developed narrative arc, Alien Covenant can easily be seen as a Fassbender vehicle, and rightly so. Elsewhere in the cast, Katharine Waterston emulates the strong female roles that have featured heavily in the past iterations of this cinematic series. Paying homage to both Rapace and Weaver, her Daniels does not simply stand still and instead drives the plot forward throughout the entire duration of the film. With a softer demeanour than the other female leads, her character is entirely likeable in how she is presented and showcases why big franchises have looked to her as a key component within their cast.

Like Prometheus, the supporting roles present within this film fit three different reasons for their inclusion. Either to apply credibility to the crew dynamic of the film, to be set up in a way that gives the creature a level of threat or to interact with and therefore help develop the larger leads within their specific character arcs. For the most part Alien Covenant sticks to the first two reasons, with the majority of the supporting cast given little to nothing to do onscreen. As glorified extras their inclusion is warranted by the high standard they effectively portray, but really Danny McBride is the only addition that gives any context over that which is given by the films two leads. Showcasing a different standard and style of acting to what he is most known for, his performance is surprising but strong and gives Alien Covenant another dynamic within its characters.

With a development of the design of the alien from Prometheus, Alien Covenant manages to transition its creature design so as to feel more akin to the Xenomorph design of the earlier alien franchise. With a more recognisable design, the audience longing to see a return of the feared creature is quelled within this film, fixing an issue many people held with the last films version. Another evolutionary step in the creation of this beast, Alien Covenant manages to transition between the films it intersects brilliantly with the decision made within this component of the film.

With Alien Covenant, Ridley Scott once again proves that he is the most effective working director in developing science fiction cinema. With both the ship and planet rendered beautifully onscreen, the film is believable from the very first frame to its climatic ending.

With a powerful aesthetic and expertly developed cinematography, this film manages to present beautiful vistas and brilliant framing choices that bring a level of quality to the proceedings onscreen. These filmmaking decisions compliment both the stand alone narrative of this picture and the wider cinematic universe wonderfully and develop upon the already established franchise. Famed for his little use of digital backdrops, the production expertly shoots the film in real locations – again pushing the believability of what is being shown. Ridley Scott is a master of fully realising his cinematic vision through the lens, and Alien Covenant is no different within this regard. 

Plot – 3

Acting – 4

Direction – 4

Retrospect – 3

Overall – 3.5

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