“Alien: Covenant” Film Review: Ridley Scott Returns to Form With Chest-Bursting Thrills

alien-covenant-bannerAll images courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

There hasn’t been an Alien movie that has mimicked the thrill of the first two films of the franchise. The enjoyably grotesque chest bursting scene in the first installment has become an iconic moment in cinematic history while Aliens served up some peak Ripley badassness as she protected Newt from the Alien Queen in a Power Loader and uttered the memorable phrase “Get away from her you bitch!” Since then, the Alien franchise has become a staple for cosplayers and fans of H.R. Giger, but the movies have moved laterally rather than elevate the legacy to a new level — but ALIEN: COVENANT comes pretty darn close.

Director Ridley Scott picks up where he left off with Prometheus and introduces the spaceship Covenant. On board the vessel are Walter (a synthetic that bears striking resemblance to David from Prometheus…because he is also played by Michael Fassbender) as well as the crew and 2,000 people in hypersleep on their way to establish a new colony for humanity on the planet Origae-6. When the ship is thrown off course, the crew is forced to wake the eff up and get things back on track.

When they discover an inhabitable and livable planet that seems like a new utopia, they think it’s a good idea to land and see what’s up. Because this is an Alien movie, the crew discovers it’s not the paradise they had hoped and some crazy face-hugging, chest-bursting, and emetophobic things start happening and not everyone walks away happy…or in one piece. It’s not a good time for the unlucky crew of the Covenant, but it’s sure as hell top-notch Alien-grade entertainment for the audience.

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There’s a formula to each movie of the Alien franchise and if done right, it’s a template that can work if tinkered with enough so it’s not like an episode of Three’s Company where Jack, Chrissy, and Janet always manage to be part of a kooky misunderstanding. Alien: Covenant twists the formula enough so that it keeps the viewer engaged, the characters interesting, and doesn’t regurgitate the same story we have seen in these movies time and time again.

The blueprint of the story is simple: the crew lands on a planet. The crew explores the planet. While exploring, some wisecracking bro does something that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but something happens. He gets sick. He gets on the ship. A creature breaks out of his body or mouth with bloody fanfare. The rest of the movie has the crew fighting for their lives against the creature. The heroine rises to the challenge and defeats said creature. A tiny hint of a sequel is left behind before the credits roll. The end. Covenant follows this pattern, but adds some interesting nuance and panache to make it different enough to be fresh, but still gives fan service to Alien purists.

As much as people want this to be a Katherine Waterston vehicle, it isn’t. Sure, the character of Daniels parallels Ripley, but again, no one can fill the shoes of Sigourney Weaver. She made Ripley into a sci-fi icon that will forever be remembered in pop culture history. As much as the franchise tries to deny that they aren’t trying to make another Ripley, the comparisons are inevitable. Like Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus, there isn’t anything inherently memorable — or cosplayable for that matter — about the character of Daniels. Well, maybe the hairstyle, but that’s about it. This doesn’t mean that Waterston didn’t do a good job in the film. She was a fine alien exterminator — but she doesn’t quite reach the level of action hero that it the audience wants. Then again, Covenant is probably just a setup. Perhaps Scott is holding back and waiting for the sequel for Waterston to give her big “Get away from her you bitch!” moment.

But if we are going to be honest, this isn’t really Waterson’s movie nor is it the Xenomorph’s (the drooling hammerheaded creature is merely a place setting rather than a huge centerpiece).  This is Fassbender’s movie. From the still and gripping opening scene between him as David and Guy Pearce’s Peer Weyland, he is the driving force of the movie. The Oscar-nominated actor does double duty playing David and Walter, two “synthetics” that have two very different opinions about their relationship with humanity that affect the course of events in the movie. The fact that he gives stirring performances to two characters that are basically emotionless, dead-eyed robots, speaks to his ability to hold a film that would have probably fallen apart with anyone else in the role. And for all you fanatical horndogs who live for a planet full Fassbendernders, there is plenty of Fassy-on-Fassy action.

With a huge ensemble cast that includes Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, and others (including James Franco!), it would be difficult to balance their roles in the film — but this is an Alien film. From the get-go, we pretty much know who’s going to survive before the credits roll. As for everyone else, it’s a game of who’s gonna die first and how. Each actor does what is necessary of their place in the story and does it well before they eventually meet their bloody end. That said, trying to get attached to any of them is pretty pointless.

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Covenant isn’t a homerun, but it won’t be as polarizing as Prometheus either (which, for the record, I didn’t mind). As soon as we’re introduced to the crew of the Covenant there is an anxious build-up of the first major Xenomorph attack — and it’s a glorious payoff. From there, things go batsh*t crazy and take off in a frenzy only to hobble a tad in the final moments of the film. Even so, watching Scott’s demented game of survival is highly entertaining. Even the predictable twist at the end still manages to be an enjoyable gut punch.

Films after Aliens, felt the need to fill the shoes of Scott’s franchise whereas Covenant knows that it can’t so it doesn’t. It knows its place in this universe and tries to focus on building on the franchise for a bigger story instead of trying to make it cooler and explosive. With a screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper, Covenant seems to be less overworked than Prometheus. There’s something a little more fun and fearless about what Scott did with the film. It’s like he just let his hair down and let his Xenomorph freak flag fly.

TB-TV-Grade-B

Rated: R
Running time: 122 minutes

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Dino watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
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Still quiet here.sas

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