MOVIE REVIEW: Alien: Covenant is a welcome return to the franchise's horror roots
It's double the Fassbender, double the fun in Ridley Scott's new Alien film.
(SPOT.ph) Thirty-eight years ago, director Ridley Scott chest-burst into the scene with an incredible sci-fi/horror called Alien. The plot was simple: a space ship crashes into a mysterious planet, a deadly creature gets in, and the crew has to fight back to survive. The result was a game-changing film that blended sci-fi elements with horror tropes, and one heck of a badass final girl in Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). James Cameron's sequel, Aliens, brought an epic action-blockbuster feel to the horror, while Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection were both downers, despite having talented directors (David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, respectively).
In 2012, fans were thrilled when Scott returned to helm a much-rumored prequel to the Alien franchise. This film, Prometheus, while beautifully made and contained some unforgettable scenes (like the self-surgery sequence), was a disappointment to those hoping that it would bring back the awesome action, smart writing, and the terrifying horror. Instead, Scott produced a philosophical film that posed tons of questions about life and death that were left unanswered.
The latest entry to the franchise, Alien: Covenant, attempts to blend the prequel's writing with the style of the original, creating a strange, alien-hybrid baby that dealt with heavy questions about faith and belief, but still brought back the rated-R horror and gore that made Alien so striking in the first place.
Alien: Covenant is set 10 years after Prometheus, with a crew carrying 2,000 colonists and several “next generation embryos” to a new Earth-like planet to start anew. When they encounter a wayward SOS signal on a nearby planet, the crew decides to investigate. Oram (Billy Crudup) leads the crew on a mission to find the signal's origins. Among the crew members are Daniels (Katherine Waterston), a tough but grieving terraforming expert and Walter (Michael Fassbender), an android similar to Prometheus' David. They soon realize this planet is home to some monstrous creatures ready to kill.
Fassbender, playing dual roles and only distinguishable by their different accents, is easily the best part of the film. Bringing that steady roboticness to David and Walter could easily be wooden under another actor, but Fassbender manages to get under your skin and either creep you out or make you interested. It's a fantastic role, and his scenes are the film's best, most shining moments.
The rest of the cast can basically be listed as Crew Member 1, Crew Member 2, and so on. We're not given enough time to really dig deep into these characters except for Walter, Oram, Daniels, and to an extent, Tennessee (played by comedian Danny McBride). Some are recognizable faces—Oscar nominee Demian Bichir is there, and so is Empire's Jussie Smollett—but the film doesn't give an alien's ooze and neither should you. It's not even important that Daniels is a "terraforming expert." All you need to know is she's the badass Ripley of this series and she's played with matching strength and vulnerability by Waterston. Everyone else, much like supporting casts in horror films, are basically fodder.
Alien: Covenant is gorgeously made. The production design, visual effects, and cinematography are absolutely stunning, from the wide shots of the spaceship to the Alien-trademark close-encounter scenes in caves and hallways. The problem might be that it is all too familiar and doesn't take the film in new directions. Much like how The Force Awakens follows A New Hope's basic structure, so does Covenant...but with some existential life questions thrown in. There was a chance to pay homage to the original and also soar to new heights, but it just relies on what it already knows it can do.
Though not as scary as the first film, it brings back some hair-raising moments, and equally memorable scenes (like a new shower scene, and one that contains everyone's favorite facehugger), as well as excellent production value we've come to know in Ridley Scott's films. The potential to do something more is there and is waiting to be taken, but Alien: Covenant is a welcome return to the original's roots.
RATING: 3 out of 5 spots
Alien: Covenant is now showing in theaters.