The original Alien series combined horror, sci-fi and action to create some of the most memorable monsters in cinema history and a strong female lead in Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who kept the xenomorphs at bay often single handedly. Director Ridley Scott returned to the series in 2012 with Prometheus, which sought to establish a new storyline and proved incredibly polarizing for fans of the originals. Now we have Covenant, which attempts to blend together elements old and new to please everyone. It may sound risky, but Scott somehow pulls it off in a gory, thrilling fashion.
Covenant sets out in similar fashion to the original. A group of scientists travel to a remote planet in hopes of discovering a new habitat. Sadly for them, things do not go to plan and they find that, rather than discovering a deserted paradise, life already exists on the planet in the form of the terrifying xenomorphs, who begin to infect the scientists.
The difference here is that their ship carries thousands of human embryos, which they hope to use to establish a new society, lending a more urgent aspect to their fight for survival.
The surprise show stealer of Covenant is Michael Fassbender, playing the stiff, unnerving android Walter and revisiting the age-old dilemma of the series over whether androids should be trusted with the control of an advanced, several tonne spaceship and thousands of human embryos. In usual Fassbender fashion, he dominates the film with a dense and surprisingly sinister performance.
Katherine Waterston impresses too as Daniels (essentially Ripley for a new generation) while the award for previously trashy comedy star turned serious actor goes to Danny McBride as the tough Tennessee. Credit goes to James Franco as well as Captain Branson, who is absolutely on fire at the moment and lights the screen up with a captivating performance. The rest of the cast feels a little weak however, with minimal character building compared to the originals (I think we all miss Bill Paxton's obnoxious Private Hudson).
Scott's vision for the rebooted franchise becomes clear throughout Covenant. While I'm not usually a fan of the complex and often pointless mythologies of many modern blockbuster franchises, the time that Scott takes to explain the aftermath of Prometheus and to tie it into Covenant actually makes a lot of sense and, while it received a lot of backlash upon its release, actually made me care a lot more about Prometheus.
Scott also explores some deeper themes about immortality and the loss of morality over the course of Covenant, something you probably wouldn't find in many of this summer's releases. Overall, this feels like a film that serves to cater both generations, fans of the originals and of the reboot.
All though Covenant doesn't quite master the suspense of the original film, it still manages to combine the horror, gore and explosive action that made Alien and Aliens such distinctive and original films. It plays fan service without milking the nostalgia, with unique takes on the classic chestbursters and facehuggers, and it is refreshing to see a film of this size keep its horror ties and opt for a dark, often gorey approach. While it is hard to justify watching Covenant over either of the original two films, it is a significant improvement over Prometheus and provides enough xenomorph action and memorable leads to justify its existence.
Covenant has been attracting a lot of flak recently for not doing enough to differentiate itself from the original series. Its hard to criticize it for this though when its all so much damn fun. The ties to the Prometheus storyline also help to keep proceedings fresh and compelling. While it may appeal more to fans of the originals, it should be suitably gripping for newcomers.