“Alien: Covenant” is the 6th canon film of the “Alien” franchise and acts as a sequel to 2012’s “Prometheus,” as well as the second of an intended three prequel films by original director Ridley Scott. Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo and Demián Bichir all star as members of a colony ship that land on an uncharted planet before discovering a terrifying threat.
I’m not the biggest fan of the “Alien” franchise. I don’t love the first film (I just don’t think it aged well) and the handful of other ones I’ve seen are enjoyably forgettable at best. So I had little interest or anticipation for “Covenant,” although I will see anything with Michael Fassbender and summer blockbusters are my jam. And while “Covenant” may not convert anyone towards “Alien” fandom, it is a decent enough sci-fi adventure with just enough blood and production value to entertain.
I’ll start with the set design and effects, because they’re gorgeous. Ridley Scott has always made great looking films, and often on relatively limited budgets, compared to fellow big Hollywood blockbusters. Despite costing “just” $97 million “Covenant” looks as sleek and investing as anything, with practical location shoots in New Zealand dropping us in a distant world full of lush forests and vast bodies of water. When films like “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” cost $175 million to produce and end up not only being a bad film but looking ugly, Scott really deserves all the praise he gets for stretching every penny (my favorite quote from him: “when you’re spending $250 million on a movie, you should have been fired a year ago”).
The cast all do great work, even Danny McBride who ventures out of his normal R-rated comedy routine. But the real star is Michael Fassbender, who plays the team’s synthetic android. Fassbender is eerie and darkly amusing, and I won’t say why or how but just know he steals the show, and like Scott his dedication to this franchise is to be commended.
Fans of the “aliens bursting out of the humans in bloody fashion” of the original films will be pleased to know that Scott pulls no punches here; this is a very R-rated blood and gore fest. It’s never to the point of getting over-the-top or almost deprecating like the “Saw” films, Scott knows where to draw the line, but those who are easily squeamish best stay at home; there are two dozen crew members and most are just here to die horrific deaths for our amusement.
The film’s biggest flaws are its pacing and purpose. The first act of the crew discovering and exploring the planet is fantastic and like I said, it all looks incredible. However then the group settles down and hides from the Neomorph aliens and that’s where things slow down and don’t really pick up until the climax; and then the climax suffers from its own issues in the form of faux endings and inconsistent flow. Things just never seem to go along at a steady pace or seem to be building towards anything, which brings me to my other point.
This film really only serves to answer a few leftover questions from “Prometheus” and set up the third prequel film. Most new bits of information we get could really be covered in a few lines of dialogue and not require a two hour, $100 million film to convey, but hey, at least we get an alien bursting out of a man’s chest again, right?
“Alien: Covenant” will please fans of the franchise a lot more than casual filmgoers, but as a non-fan of the franchise I still found enough to enjoy. The film looks great and features some fun, gory kills and for the popcorn crowd that will be enough. Those who like their sci-fi’s with a little more meat and purpose may leave wanting more, but for what it had to do and be, this is a solid late-period Ridley Scott flick.
Critics Rating: 6/10