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Review – Alien: Covenant – “Lots of lovely gore”

Ridley Scott (Blade Runner) has another pop at the Alien franchise, with his third instalment after Alien and PrometheusAlien: Covenant. Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) returns as his artificial person character, David, from Prometheus, as well as also playing the new doomed ship’s synthetic: Walter. The remainder of the Covenant’s crew is comprised of Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice), Danny McBride (This is the End), Billy Crudup (Almost Famous) and Demián Bichir (The Hateful Eight).

Minor spoilers ahead.

The Covenant is a ship full of couples zapping across the galaxy to build houses, have babies and colonise a new planet. Walter (Fassbender) has been maintaining everything while the crew are in hyper sleep, but a space accident wakes them all up prematurely and kills their Captain.

Oram (Crudup) is next in the chain of command. When the crew intercept a mysterious beacon from another habitable planet, he decides to ditch the safe and vetted far away destination for the creepy and unknown but quite close one.

After landing, two of the away team are quickly infected by spores because they are not wearing helmets or masks on an unknown alien planet. Cool new pink creatures – neomorphs – burst from their spines and lay siege to the crew, before a cloaked stranger – David (Fassbender again) – “saves” them and takes them home to his suspicious necropolis full of decaying bodies.

The Covenant’s pilot, Tennessee (McBride), launches a rescue mission as face huggers and xenomorphs lay siege to Daniels and co.’s ground team, but even if they manage to get off the terrifying planet it may not be alone dot dot dot.

Alien: Covenant has lots of lovely gore and a surprising amount of Aliens-esque gun toting – even James Cameron’s power loader sequence gets a knowing nodding replay. But as cool as this stuff is it is very clearly not what Ridley Scott is interested in. It almost feels like a cover for him to smuggle more of his Prometheus chin-stroking past a studio and fandom who are just pleased to see the return of the chestbursters and the classic xenomorph creature design.

Scott sets his stall and intentions and interests out early with a long and wordy pre-title sequence between David and Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) that triggers unpleasant memories of The Matrix Reloaded’s Architect. Later, monster attacks are suspenselessly enacted with no tension and a feeling of box ticking, while long scenes between the robots learning to play the flute and talk about their cyber feelings are laughably indulgent: I am still unsure whether David breathlessly whispering to Walter that he will “take care of the fingering” was supposed to be amusing.

Minus Prometheus writer Damon Lindelof’s (Lost) frustrating nonsensical obtuse vague-ary though at least all the engineers-creation-faith gubbins is a bit more palatable. Unfortunately, David’s scheme, and an intended to be huge plot twist, are signposted to even the most popcorn-for-brains viewer thirty minutes before it occurs.

Another big frustration is that James Franco (Spring Breakers) is immediately wasted in a manner so throwaway that you may not even know he was present if you had not watched the prologue first. Waterston and McBride are excellent though. Daniels has Ripley’s balls and Call from Alien: Resurrection’s haircut, while Tennessee is the coolest space cowboy ever – taking up the slack when Crudup’s sympathetically played wimp cannot make the grade. Bichir makes the most of what he gets to do – which is little – but goes at it tough and fierce.

There are also lots of familiar tingles to tickle fans. A couple of returning music cues send shivers up the spine and prod the fear centre of your lizard brain; while the creatures’ primal savagery and the stringy drippy results of their mauling’s remind you how brutal and terrifying Giger’s alien could and can be. While still not quite the return we were waiting for, Covenant is far better than Prometheus and points itself in an exciting direction for future instalments.

Alien: Covenant is released in the UK on the 12th May and the US on 19th May.

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