The pressure must have been on for Director Ridley Scott to bring the Alien franchise back into focus following the luke-warm response to semi-sequel Prometheus. You only need to look at the way Fox has marketed their new deep space nightmare to get a sense of how keen they are to return things to their roots. Claustrophobic spaceship terror? Check. A gun-wielding Ripley-esque leading lady? Check. A familiar looking threat? Yup, all the elements of a classic Alien movie are there and yet there’s something very different hiding below the surface of Covenant waiting to burst free, kind of like a… well, you get the picture.
Ten years after meeting the doomed crew of the Prometheus we’re introduced to the equally doomed crew of the Covenant, a colony ship bound for the nearest habitable planet from Earth. It’s their job to set up the first off-world human civilisation using their cargo of frozen embryos but when their cryo-snooze is unexpectedly interrupted, things start to go awry. Responding to a mysterious transmission from a nearby planet, the crew discover a world perfect for their colonisation plans. However as their exploration begins the team discover this new-found oasis hides some hidden secrets, bloodthirsty threats and familiar faces that aim to take things from bad to worse.
Misleading marketing aside, Alien Covenant appears to be just as much of a tonal balancing act on-screen as it is off, with Scott seemingly juggling his own personal interests with that of the studio. It’s worth noting that this new installment is billed as Alien Covenant opposed to its predecessor’s singular stand-alone title, firmly establishing itself in the franchise camp. Those who grumbled at Prometheus’s lack of identity may be pleased at this decisiveness, but overall it makes for a slightly disjointed venture.
Like the film’s creatures, Covenant’s true form hides underneath a more recognisable outer layer. Jump in expecting the gung-ho action of Aliens and you’ll likely be a bit disappointed, especially as the film heads into its introspective second act. Instead, Scott appears more interested in developing the big ideas sewn in Prometheus. He especially has fun looking at the role of faith in this darkly dystopian world, both in terms of the Big Guy upstairs and also in humanity itself and its ability to survive in a universe that, despite Peter Weyland’s (Guy Pierce) bankrolled best efforts, still appears to be lacking a sympathetic higher power.
It’s this mix of high-brow pondering and low-brow gore that make you leave the film with Michael Fassbender’s cold-as-ice android sticking in your mind instead of the long-awaited return of Ripley’s nemesis. Interesting for sure, but not quite what was expected from this supposed Alien movie.
Alien Covenant is in cinemas now.