A gory, frenetic return to safe and familiar territory for Ridley Scott's epic Alien franchise.
"Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair". The fingerprints of Shelley's timeless poem Ozymandias are all over Ridley Scott's latest foray into the Alien franchise. Perhaps more so than he intended. While the inexorable decline of leaders and their empires forms the central theme of Alien: Covenant, it also feels neatly appropriate for a franchise in dire need of an original idea.
Put simply, Alien: Covenant feels like a beat-for-beat remake, which is at once good news and bad. It's good because Scott's original Alien from 1979 remains one of the best films he has ever made, and is arguably the strongest entry in the now eight-film franchise. But it's also bad because, by sticking so closely to a tried and true formula, Scott robs us of the possibility of seeing anything much new.
The reason they've gone in this direction is obvious. The previous film in the series, Prometheus, was a wildly divisive effort, splitting audiences over its sudden and sweeping shift away from the killer xenomorph story towards a far more philosophical one built around questions about mankind's origins and purpose. Factor in the movie's many, many plot holes and absurdities, and you at least understand why Scott felt the need to rein things back in. Even so, the extent to which Covenant so quickly dispenses with everything Prometheus established is both remarkable and disappointing.
And yet, at the end of the day, this is still a Ridley Scott film, meaning that even at its worst it still has much to offer. Visually, for example, it's another spectacular piece of cinema, combining stunning panoramas with gritty, claustrophobic closeups. We also get some excellent work from the likes of Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup and – in an impressive dramatic turn – comedian Danny McBride. That said, the MVP gong absolutely belongs to Michael Fassbender, although in order to avoid spoilers we can't really say why.
Finally, there's the action. For all of his film's shortcomings, Scott manages to craft at least one set-piece, in which the aliens first appear, that proves absolutely gripping. This is a gory, frenetic and xenomorph-heavy return to safe and familiar territory for the Alien saga, which will doubtless come as pleasing news to all of Prometheus's detractors. And yet, to quote Shelley, nothing beside remains round the decay of this colossal wreck. No more questions. No more mystery. Just lone and level sands stretching far away.