Director: Ridley Scott
The whole notion of the ‘film franchise’ applies remorseless commercial logic to an artform. Just as wherever you are in the world a Big Mac is a Big Mac – except of course in France where it’s Le Big Mac. So it is now, six movies in, in the world of facehuggers and ‘it’s in the ship’. Ridley Scott’s efforts to reboot the whole thing and provide an origin story for the acid-dripping nightmare in Prometheus showed how tight the franchise expectations now are. Too much sense of wonder, confusing plot (Engineers, prehistoric star charts, WMDs, black goo, Guy Pearce hiding in the attic) and not enough of the woman-in-vest running down dark corridors with a big gun chased by the dark two-mouth drippy acid nightmare thing. Even Ridley can’t fight the feedback cards it would seem, and so Covenant attempts to do two things: to move the backstory started in Prometheus on while giving the fans what they want in terms of Alien action. Actually three things as everyone loved Fassbender’s bad robot, so let’s have more of that. Double Fassbender to go!
We set our scene on the colony ship Covenant, en route to somewhere more peachy than Earth but far away, when an accident forces a more modern Fassbot to wake the crew from cryosleep. As they repair the damage we get the 20s character download on each that the scriptwriters are relying on us to remember when an hour later they’re dancing with the big black guy with teeth or getting their faces hugged off. Then a mysterious signal persuades the crew to divert the ship to an enticing earth-like planet. There they discover Fassbot two: David 8 from Prometheus, who has been marooned Prospero-like (he’s big on poetry, art, philosophy etc. and there’s one zinger of a Romantic poetry line) on the isle.
Once the lander is down, and the comms are out, it’s not long before the killing starts. If Prometheus was perhaps a baggy concept album, this is a greatest hits compilation. All the hatch, match and dispatch techniques are present and correct and tremendously enjoyed by my teenage kids. The claret flows copiously, chests explode, dripping embryo-monsters emerge from corpses, and in the end it boils down to Big Black stalking an ever-diminishing crew through those dark corridors once more. Whole lines: ‘we’ll drive it towards us’ recall previous episodes.
If there’s a familiarity as strong as ‘Mr Bond I’ve been I’ve expecting you’ around the plot, we have to except the Fassbots. What is new here resides in their interaction. Fassbot 1 (Walter) a newer model, is a loyal soldier to his human creators and both fascinated and disturbed by the aggressively independent David 8 (who we last saw as a head in a holdall toted by Noomi Rapace) and his attempts to play God. The scenes between them crackle with ideas and tension and are much the best thing about Covenant. Much of their discussion focuses on the act of creating life, for David 8 has been at the black goo again, and I would urge everyone to just ride with the logic of all this or their head will hurt. We get from the white thing that emerged at the end of Prometheus to the full-on Alien, but Dawkins and Darwin remain uncredited.
It’s a highly entertaining two hours in the cinema, and Fassbender x 2 and Kathryn Waterson’s Daniels are excellent performances. But if Prometheus felt like an opening up of the Alien universe this feels like a back to basics move.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
Erm…it’s an Alien movie. So people who enjoy Alien movies.