‘Alien: Covenant’ (2017)

‘Alien: Covenant’

A darker more primal addition to the franchise, that seeks to juggle the series long push and pull between philosophy of creation and entertaining horror. Unfortunately ending up doing neither very well. Where ‘Alien Covenant’ succeeds is as a origin story to the xenomorphs from the original films, as a relatively jumpy dark entertaining horror and in being more easily understood and accessible than ‘Prometheus’. But precisely these successes lead me to be disappointed. The Ridley Scott prequels to the original Alien series are caught between two competing desires. On the one hand you have the haunted house in space trope, of the Alien breaking out of chests and staking people, pure horror, done so well by both ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’. On the other hand you have the more philosophical creation story, the themes of humans vs. artificial intelligence, made in God’s image biblical musings that go all the way back to Scotts work on ‘Blade Runner’. ‘Prometheus’ attempted more than any other in the series to deal with the more philosophical side and was both criticised and praised for its complexity, enigmatic unanswered questions, and confusing plot lines. ‘Alien: Covenant’ tries to juggle both. With the good old jump scares, gore and horror, mixed with larger questions of creation and AI, and of course feminist agency. It does none of these very well. Both ‘Promethus’ and ‘Alien Covenant’ try to top the horror of the originals which is just not possible. To me ‘Alien’ is still the scariest by far. But whereas ‘Prometheus’ to varying success asked questions about creation, AI, ‘Alien Covenant’ frustratingly does not answer any of those questions raised but rather answers totally different questions by giving an origin story to the aliens themselves. This is the most frustrating aspect, it’s as if after the criticism of ‘Promethus’ being too obtuse and hard to understand this film attempts to be more accessible without answering those questions!! Bottom line by trying to be a bit of all the previous films in the franchise ‘Alien: Covenant’ ends up being one of the weaker of the series. The best part of the film has to be Michael Fassbender’s performance as the artificial intelligence David, who has surely created one of the best science fiction characters in decades. My main issues with the film revolve around the plot and structure of the film. Visually the film is stunning to watch, the horror elements are good and the origin story is compelling. If you are a fan of the series I’m sure you may be pleased with elements of the film. And yet this fan walked away feeling very disappointed indeed. I feel as if sometimes great director Ridley Scott has so much more to say but has been curtailed by studio intervention to make a true to form entertaining sci fi horror. He struck gold with ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’ but seems unable to recreate the glory of those films, or even sadly to have the integrity to stick to the original story ark of ‘Prometheus’. Perhaps it is a good thing that he is not directing the sequel to ‘Blade Runner’ after all. 7/10

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