I became a fan of the Alien franchise later in life (relatively speaking). Despite the fact that not all of the films have been of the highest standard, I remain a fan. I love the character/creature design, probably as much as any other property out there. I love the versatility of the franchise and how it can be horror, suspense, action, and science-fiction and it can either be these things alternatively or simultaneously. I also loved Ridley Scott’s Prometheus – one of the many prequels (now four, though the AVP films are not canon) to his original Alien. I still consider Prometheus to be the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen in 3D. So, yeah, I’m – in general – a fan.
Now, Ridley Scott returns to the franchise with a sequel to Prometheus, but another prequel to Alien, with Alien: Covenant. The reviews have been solid, though I’ve stayed away from reading them in detail. The one complaint I’ve picked up on is that it’s “more of the same”. Well, to that, I say, “Great!” That’s what we want, right?
Despite being a fan of the Alien property, I’m back-and-forth on Ridley Scott, himself. Outside of this particular film series, I have largely found him underwhelming. Don’t read into that. I don’t actively dislike him or his work; I just don’t typically find myself enthusiastic about it.
So, sitting down to watch Alien: Covenant, I was hopeful, but without extraordinary expectations. That was probably the perfect mindset to have. The film is pretty great, but not anything that’s going to blow people’s minds. Michael Fassbender returns to the franchise after his first appearance in Prometheus and he gets a lot to do. I would imagine he’s thoroughly enjoying himself in these films because not only does he get to participate in something fun that has a true legacy in the film world, but he also is afforded the opportunity to show great range in his acting ability. Most of the other characters in Covenant – aside from Katherine Waterston’s Daniels and maybe Danny McBride’s Tennessee – are largely forgettable. But Fassbender, due to both his own talents and the writing, leaves a lasting impression that will begin to cement a permanent association between him and Alien in the minds of casual moviegoers.
The claim that the movie is “more of the same” is only half-true. As I mentioned, the Alien franchise lends itself to many different genres. In the past, individual movies in the series have opted to choose one of these genres and run with it. Alien was primarily horror, James Cameron’s Aliens was barnburning action, and Prometheus was philosophical science-fiction. Covenant embraces the established history of the property and does it all. For most people, one of the aforementioned triplet of earlier Alien films is likely their favorite and, no matter which of the three they prefer, they’ll get a taste of it in Covenant. There are two ways to look at this. On one hand, one could say that this creative approach prevents the film from staking a claim to its own identity. On the other hand, one could also say that this is the first film to truly be all that a single Alien film can be. None of it feels forced, because it’s all been previously established and can be easily believed as the situations surrounding the protagonists shift. I prefer the second point of view because I don’t feel it’s my place to stifle the vision of someone like Ridley Scott, even if I’m not his biggest fan. He gives the viewer a taste of everything and it all goes down easier than a spoonful of sugar from Yondu.
The pacing is a little slow at the beginning and might turn some people off if they’re expecting wall-to-wall action. I can understand that, but the payoff is worth the wait. There’s some intense, breathtaking action mixed in with some tortuous, wonderful suspense. One scene in particular reminded me of Steven Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park (you’ll probably know it when you see it) and another features the most unfortunately timed alien attack in the franchise’s history (you’ll definitely know it when you see it). It’s such a joy to behold and is one of my favorite film moments of the year.
Ultimately, Alien: Covenant succeeds at its primary goal: to entertain. It adds to the mythology (though maybe not quite as much as I would have liked) and nicely closes the circle created by the overarching series narrative, while leaving room for more to be filled in, down the line. The film doesn’t break any new ground – whether it be within the franchise or in the film world, in general – but it provides plenty of everything that has made the Alien films so popular and lasting for the last 38 years. It will be overshadowed by bigger, shiner films over the course of the summer, but should thrill fans of the series, nonetheless.
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