Prometheus, to be ironically fair, was a mixed beast. Promising far more than it delivered, Ridley Scott’s flawed return to the Alien franchise he started in 1979 gleefully doled out more questions than it answered, gorgeous cinematography and lashings of rousing icky stuff only to divide the cinema going public quicker than intergalactic Marmite.
Well the good news is that Alien: Covenant is a noticeable improvement over the previous instalment but be warned, if you were one of those who were left cold by the exploits of the good ship Prometheus, Covenant needs a good working knowledge of that movie to really make it fly.
Not so much the full blooded Alien prequel we were promised and more like Prometheus with a cool Alien makeover, Covenant adds pilgrims to the long list of groups (alongside Truckers, Marines, Prisoners and Idiot Scientists) the xenomorph has shredded over the years. A long trek through space to start a new colony is interrupted when tragedy strikes the crew forcing them out of cryosleep. Finding a message which leads then to a previously undiscovered planet which will suit their needs better than their actual destination, they land only to experience almost instant disaster as the planet is rife with genetic time bombs that result in the human body mutating internally and (in one case, literally) vomiting out pale shrieking Neomorphs who are lethal at birth and fast as lightning. Matters somehow get worse when David, the rogue android from the lost Prometheus mission ten years earlier appears. The sinister synthetic been stranded here on this planet that boasts a mass grave of the Engineers as a prime sightseeing location and he’s been busy tinkering on something rather familiar that could have grave ramifications for mankind in general.
Dropping a lot of the shiny, theological stuff in favour of murk and fear, Alien: Covenant for the vast majority is breathless stuff. Fast brutal and cruel, the violence and gore is magnificent and inventive, the tension is palpable and the action is furious (a frenetic one on one firefight between alien and woman on a flying platform is heart pounding stuff) and when the movie focuses on the cool horror stuff, it soars like a dropship. The characters work less so and while the fact the crew are made up of couples is a neat concept (so when one gets taken apart in various horrific ways, at least one crew member is affected intensely), most end up being rather bland. Thankfully Michael Fassbender’s double role as synthetics David and Walter liven up the human stuff immensely, as different as Ian Holm’s Ash is from Lance Henricksen’s Bishop, any time spent together with creepy amounts of flute based android grooming. “Shall I do the fingering?” purrs David indulging in some robosexual flirting. In fact the only real sticking point of Covenant is it’s plot. Bouncing between it’s rather basic A-plot to full on explaining retroactively as to what the fuck was going on in the previous film. Not familiar with Prometheus? Good luck keeping up, then because there is a ton of exposition to absorb. I personally am pretty fond of Prometheus despite it’s flaws, so the back story wasn’t such a heft for me but I was fielding a LOT of questions from my wife, so you may wanna drop a star from the above rating.
In closing, this is a violent step in the right direction and refreshingly downbeat for a summer blockbuster and since Ridley Scott seems content to style out the rest of his career making Alien movies (he claims the next one will be ready to film in a year or so) this can only be good news to me. But then, rather fittingly, the Alien movies have been part of my DNA since I was 12 years old and to see the classic design stalking through a cargo hold gives me a big swell in my chest. Or at least… I HOPE it’s a swell…