The crew of the USCSS Covenant, on a colonisation mission, are woken early from their hyper sleep and divert from their course to investigate a rogue signal which appears to be human, and encounter David, the synthetic survivor from the Prometheus.
Ridley Scott’s second film in a proposed trilogy of prequels to the Alien series comes five years after Prometheus, a film which divided audiences due to an abundance of philosophising and “Where do we come from?” questions, and a lack of .. well.. Aliens. Having revisited Prometheus prior to seeing Covenant, it’s not actually as bad as I remembered. As a self-contained story, it works fairly well. As a prequel to Alien, it works less well.
Covenant goes some way to redress that balance by still having a fair amount of discussion about the nature of man and machine, and man and creator, before Neomorphs and Xenomorphs are (eventually) unleashed on the crew.
Alien: Covenant, like Alien, takes a long while to get going. It takes its time setting the scene and introducing us to the crew of the Covenant, who, unlike the crew of the Nostromo, are almost entirely interchangeable with one another, with a few notable exceptions: Billy Crudup’s Captain Oram, (newly elevated to the position following a tragedy and unsure of himself), Danny McBride’s Tennessee (seems like he might be the comic relief to begin with but proves himself otherwise) and Katherine Waterston’s Daniels (proto-Ripley).
Barring a couple of insane decisions by Captain Oram (not sure if these are a failing of the character or the screenplay..) all these characters and the actors playing them acquit themselves well, but the film really belongs to Michael Fassbender in his dual role as the unhinged David and his less emotional upgrade Walter. He manages to give both characters distinctly separate personalities, and the scene in which David attempts to seduce Walter to the dark side over a recorder lesson is a masterclass not only in direction, but also acting opposite yourself.
As expected from a Ridley Scott film the visuals are stunning, and when the Xenomorphs do finally appear there are some genuinely tense moments, including a gruesome shower scene that puts Psycho to shame.
Again, as a prequel to Alien, I’m not convinced it works (the third instalment has some work to do to bridge the gap between new and old) but taken as a followup to Prometheus, it is a good accompaniment, even if the final twist can be seen coming from a mile off.