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Alien: Covenant - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Alien: Covenant
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+
Special Effects: B+

Six films into the franchise, it bears repeating: Ridly Scott's original Alien (1979) was at its core a monster movie set in space, and made little pains to be anything more. And that's what made it great, rightfully regarded by many as a masterpiece combination of horror and science fiction. Scott did not return to the franchise until the 2012 semi-prequel Prometheus, which, along with this year's Alien: Covenant, robbed the original film of much of its mystery. And there is something to be said for mystery.

If anyone insists on filling in gaps that did not necessarily need filling, though, Covenant does it in some fascinating and undeniably fun -- as well as frightening and gory -- ways. Covenant is one of potentially many missing links, a direct sequel to Prometheus (set ten years later) and a much clearer prequel to Alien. There are many through lines between these three films in particular, right down to the iconic design of the opening title cards, with portions of the letters slowly appearing onscreen with space as the background. In Covenant, composer Jed Kurzel's score even directly echos Jerry Goldsmith's score for Alien.

Fair warning: as opposed to Prometheus, which is compelling from the start, Covenant drags a bit for the first twenty minutes or so. We meet yet another spaceship crew, with the standard assemblage of throwaway characters we know from the start will mostly prove expendable -- this is the one glaringly obvious scenario common among all the films in this franchise. Who will bite it first? Who will be the last to survive? How will the alien creature be discovered and how will it terrorize everyone?

This time around, it's a colony ship, its crew awakened by a solar flare that damages the ship to the point of needing manual repair. Yawn. But, we can't have all the characters sleeping through the whole movie, can we? Instead of a distress signal, they happen to intercept a mysterious transmission that indicates life on an unexpectedly nearby planet. Naturally they have to investigate.

They find themselves on the planet once inhabited by the "Engineers" from Prometheus -- now absent of all non-plant life, which means, thankfully, Covenant features very little of those Engineers. But if you recall the parting shot of Prometheus, it is something close to that creature that Covenant begins with, and in this story, we find out how they eventually became the xenomorph familiar to fans of the early films in the franchise.

The process whereby this occurs is a bit of plot cheating, but whatever; it still works better in the context of this movie taking itself less seriously than its predecessor did. There's still a bit too much content over-concerned with the question of creation, and having a God complex, than any of these movies really need -- but there's far less of it this time around. This is what allows for several genuinely thrilling sequences involving our characters attempting to defend themselves from these alien creatures.

So that's where the slight dragging of the first few scenes ends, and Alien: Covenant is a thrill ride from there until the end. The xenomorph, in its several incarnations during the course of the film, is especially well-rendered. In sharp contrast to the creature as rendered in 1979, which from today's vantage point is almost comically obvious as a gangly guy wearing an alien monster suit, the creatures now have very specific movements that make it look very convincingly like a stalking animal. And it is terrifyingly swift and cunning. In short, for the first time, the creature feels like something that actually could exist.

There's a lot more I could say about how this movie sheds new light on the xenomorph's origins, but that would get into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say that, overlaid on what could otherwise be regarded as a tired and overused, broad concept, Covenant offers some surprisingly fresh takes on predatory alien attacks. Back in the day, James Cameron took the franchise's horror roots and moved it into action movie territory, but Ridley Scott brings back real, and very effective, terrified suspense. Nothing will every surpass the first entry in this series, but a movie like Alien: Covenant is doubly impressive by getting as close as it does after so much time.

So what of the actors? Sorry to say, they are pretty much all incidental, even Daniels (Katherine Waterston), who continues the tradition of strong female leads in these movies. The one real exception is Michael Fassbender, the one holdover character from Prometheus -- and he plays a dual role, one of David from before and one of another model of the same android, now named Walter and speaking with what seems like a deliberately bad American accent. The contentious relationship between these two make the one truly interesting relationship in the entire movie; none of the the human characters quite offer anything as compelling. And that's too bad, with the likes of Danny McBride, Billy Crudup and even brief appearances by James Franco and Guy Pearce in the mix.

Ridley Scott can put all the pseudo-intellectual window dressing he wants on the proceedings, but when it all comes down to it, people are coming to this movie to see a bunch of terrified space travelers get ripped apart and eaten by a grotesque alien monster. And guess what? Alien: Covenant has that in spades, packed with action sequences each more exciting to watch than the last. The pieces that click into place in the context of the overall franchise are perhaps not as vital as the movie seems to want us to think, but it's fun to make the connections anyway. When it comes to the specific kind of entertainment audiences expect of a movie like this, it over-delivers. I'm not sure how great it might seem to someone who hasn't seen any of the other Alien movies, but for existent fans, it's really not to be missed.

Cheeese! The xenomorph is ready for its closeup in ALIEN: COVENANT.

Overall: B+
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