If you're still gestating Ridley Scott's Prometheus unsure of whether it was exactly a welcome addition to the Alien family, Covenant may complicate things further. Both a return to and a departing from what made the trilogy so entertaining, previous additions may've tread old ground but this is the first one where many elements have truly felt formulaic.
Luckily, it's a formula that works for the most part, and who couldn't forgive Ridley Scott for wanting to play the hits again? After all, the Alien series' strange births, body horror and Freudian feminism is a potent mix it's difficult not to be enticed back by.
The year is 2103, that's 20 years before the events of Alien (1976) and 10 years after the events of Prometheus (2012). This Alien film takes its title ‘Covenant' from the film's own mammoth passenger ship travelling through space with a cargo of thousands of hypersleeping colonists, countless human embryos, another motley crew of hard-nosed space greasers and one android in the familiar form of Michael Fassbender.
Covenant runs aground (in space terms) after encountering a unpredicted energy blast. The awakened crew members still dealing with a catastrophic loss of life from the surge, change tact having received a distress signal from a nearby planet that seems to have all the necessary qualities any terrafirming hopefuls might need.
Why were critics so hard on Prometheus? The Alien series is a much beloved fan favourite and as such they've become a victim of their own success, with each subsequent film judged against an impossible standard of fandom. But the horror film by way of space opera once a game changing genre films has grown predictable through familiarity, whether you criticize it for playing the same notes again and again or enjoy its variations on a theme is up to you but by now we all know how this particular cookie crumbles. Jump cuts, chestbursters and a disposable cast of victims.
Katherine Waterson fills Ripley's boots amiably but plays a second fiddle to Michael Fassbender delightfully hammy performance as both David and Walter (which isn't the only Mengelian twist that Covenant brings). Still sporting a grafted accent via Peter O'Toole the android enacts a very particular colonial horror meets Frankenstein's monster narrative. Never falling shy of what we expect from the Alien mythos, with some particularly violent variations on your garden variety xenomorph trolling around a planet and picking people off. Covenant overcomes its perhaps difficult genesis and engages the audience in a grandiose and gruesome tale.
Words by Cormac O'Brien
Alien Covenant is out in cinemas on May, 12, 2017