A gory, frenetic return to safe and familiar territory for Ridley Scott's epic Alien franchise.
"Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair”.
The fingerprints of Shelley’s timeless “Ozymandias" are all over Ridley Scott’s latest foray into the Alien franchise, though perhaps more so than he intended, for while the inexorable decline of leaders and their empires forms Alien: Covenant’s central theme, it also feels neatly appropriate for a franchise in dire need of an original idea.
Put simply, Alien: Covenant feels like a beat-for-beat remake, which is at once good news and bad. Good, because of all the options to chose from, it went with director Ridley Scott’s original Alien from 1979 - almost certainly still his (and the franchise’s) best - but bad, because as a remake it automatically robs us of the possibility of seeing anything much new.
The reason, of course, is obvious enough. Scott’s last film, Prometheus, was a wildly divisive picture, splitting audiences over his sudden and sweeping shift away from the ‘killer xenomorph’ story towards a far more philosophical one centred upon questions of mankind’s origins and purpose. Add to that its many, many plot holes and absurdities (led chiefly by Charlize Theron’s infamous attempt at outrunning a collapsing spaceship instead of merely pivoting to one side and avoiding it), and you at least understand why Scott perhaps felt guilty of narrative overreach.
That said, the extent to which Covenant so quickly dispenses with everything Prometheus established is both remarkable and disappointing, for it’s precisely in those few, fleeting moments where the film actually covers original and engaging ground.
And yet, this is still a Ridley Scott film, meaning that even at its worst it still has much going for it. Visually, for example, it’s another spectacular piece of cinema, combining stunning panoramas with gritty, claustrophobic closeups to make both its space and terrestrial scenes feel at once authentic and unwelcoming. The cast, too, sees some excellent work from the likes of Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup and - in an impressively dramatic turn - comedian Danny McBride, however (for reasons we can’t go into) it’s absolutely Michael Fassbender’s picture. Then, finally, there’s the action, and for all of Covenant's shortcomings, the 10-15 minute period during which things first take a turn for the worse is absolutely some of the most gripping, nail-biting cinema of any film in recent memory.
This is a gory, frenetic and xenomorph-heavy return to safe and familiar territory for the Alien saga, which will doubtless come as pleasing news to all of Prometheus’s detractors, however, nothing beside remains round the decay of this colossal wreck. No more questions. No more mystery. Just lone and level sands stretching far away.