Alien: Covenant movie review - New actors, snazzy visuals, same old tried-and-tested formula

Mihir Fadnavis

May,12 2017 12:39 40 IST

2.5/5

It’s the age of ‘Soft Reboots’, Hollywood’s new formula. Take a beloved franchise from the '70s or '80s, plan a sequel, but cater to two different demographics — the audience that grew up watching the original movies, and the audience that has heard of the films but never seen them, but would be excited enough to see the new movie. The way to execute the latter is by essentially remaking the first movie in the guise of a sequel, have a bigger budget and therefore slicker visuals. The Force Awakens did it exceptionally well, and now Ridley Scott takes a stab at the Alien franchise, to middling results.

Alien Covenant is everything you’ve seen in earlier Alien movies, and that works for the film if you want to watch more of the same. It’s thrilling, exciting and a visual delight for horror fans. And those who were disappointed by 2012’s Prometheus can breathe a sigh of relief – this is a more enjoyable film than that one. The problem is, there’s absolutely nothing new or unpredictable about anything that happens in the story.

Poster of Alien: Covenant

Poster of Alien: Covenant

The exact same beats occur – in the future a bunch of people in a space ship land on a planet, discover the Alien eggs, become hosts, give birth to Xenomorphs and are attacked and killed mercilessly. There’s also a dodgy Android (Michael Fassbender), and an unassuming female member of the crew (Katherine Waterston) who becomes the Alien puncher as the film progresses. You get new actors, vastly more snazzy visuals, but the tried and tested Alien formula never leaves the film.

To Scott’s credit he’s taken the best aspects of the first and second Alien movies and put them together in Covenant. There are the slasher movie horror tropes of the first movie, punctuated by the gun firing mayhem of the second one. There’s plenty of gore and people get killed in deliciously gruesome ways, and your appreciation of said scenes depends on your proclivity towards horror cinema. The ‘back burster’ Xenomorph is a nice update to the original chest burster, and the new age special effects take things to an extreme level, getting a sufficiently squirmy reaction from horror fans. It’s also never a boring movie, especially in the scenes featuring Fassbender as a potentially dangerous character in an already compromised environment.

Despite all the entertainment value in Covenant there’s always the nagging feeling of smart people doing dumb things, and being killed in the process. It seems like Scott has still not realised the stupidity of the navigation officer being lost in a cave in Prometheus, because you’ll see more such people doing unintentionally hilarious things in the third act of Covenant. Another source of frustration is the lack of continuity — the plot thread of the Engineers established in the previous movie is almost completely abandoned in servitude of being closer to the original Alien movie. The film also ends on a frustrating note, blatantly establishing itself as a precursor to a sequel which would give you more answers to the questions you have.

We’re all for more Alien movies giving us answers, but the question that remains is, where does the Alien franchise go from here? Scott, now 80 years old plans to make more Alien movies, but going by the formulaic nature of this film, one begins to wonder if that’s a good idea. It’s difficult to figure out what other surprises are left from the Xenomorphs — as of now it feels exhausting to watch another movie waiting for the eggs to attack not very smart people on a space ship. Perhaps it’s time to let someone else take a stab at this. Neil Blomkamp, with his proficiency in military hardware depicted in cinema and a good screenwriter would probably be a good choice.