Several years ago, when Ridley Scott announced his prequel to his 1979 classic Alien, Prometheus, I wondered whether we really needed an explanation for events leading up to a film that already worked so efficiently and effectively.
Now, with the follow-up to that film, Alien: Covenant, that is also another precursor to the original, that question occurs once again.
From the off it ties the two threads of the story together with a prologue featuring Prometheus‘ replicant character David (Michael Fassbender) before we are sent to the colony ship Covenant and meet another replicant, Walter (also Fassbender).
From that point on we get a story that seems to be unsure quite what it wants to do and say. Certainly there are plenty of thrills and chills and a good dose of action and excitement as the crew of the Covenant (and I don’t think this is a spoiler given the title) encounter a version of the Xenomorph Alien (apparently the ‘Neomorph’) seen in the past instalments of the series.
Along with the action, again much like Prometheus, the film seems to want to deal with some big questions, so we have Oram (Billy Crudup), thrust into the role of ship’s captain and a self expressed man of faith.
The fact this is self expressed is where the problem with this attempt at exploring something really comes to fore as anything Alien: Covenant might be trying to explore is just stated by the characters rather being genuinely explored through the film, so it falls a little flat.
As well as this there is a thread that, like the original Alien and its direct sequels, takes something of a feminist angle with crew member Daniels (Katherine Waterston) echoing original heroine Ripley as the film’s (comparatively) grounded heroic centre as chaos escalates.
Unlike the original though this feels rather too heavy-handed, especially as it’s already an established trope of the series and it just never quite rings as honest and true, particularly when we reach a rather over gratuitous scene toward the film’s climax.
This might be for the very simple reason that, while Daniels is arguably the hero of this film’s story, I couldn’t escape the feeling that the series now belongs to Fassbender’s replicant characters.
It’s fair to say that, as David initially and then Walter, Fassbender has found a way to make these characters that, in the past were often sinister bit parts, into fascinating explorations of humanity and our place in the universe (as much as a big budget sci-fi blockbuster might).
Fassbender is undeniably the most engaging presence here and, as with Prometheus, his performance is phenomenal – to the point where his blankness is at times a little too convincing and genuinely creepy, and makes any outbursts all the more effective, but I may already have said too much.
As a whole though Alien: Covenant, while enjoyable, feels a little too much like a ‘best bits’ of the better past films thrown together, with the attempt at philosophy of Prometheus thrown in, and not quite coming out with an entirely satisfying whole and it’s hard to escape the fact that this is all somewhat unnecessary exposition for a pair of classic films that never needed it.