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Alien: Covenant review: "Aggressively bloody and high of bodycount... but rarely intimidating"

Total Film, the UK's smartest film magazine, is part of the GamesRadar+ family, with unique insight and fresh perspectives on the biggest and most interesting films of the year. Here's Total Film's review of Alien: Covenant by News Editor Jordan Farley, giving you another in-depth verdict on one of the biggest movies of the year.

Total Film magazine's Alien: Covenant review

Verdict: Ridley’s Alien redemption rights the wrongs of Prometheus, but owes too much of a debt to the ‘79 original. Third time lucky?

Let’s not bury the lead: Ridley Scott’s Alien resurrection is exactly the film all but the most ardent apologists wanted from 2012’s Prometheus. Indeed, at times, Covenant feels less like a sequel and more like a do-over. It’s smarter, scarier and boasts a nightmarish atmosphere comparable to Scott’s transcendent ‘79 original. But with this comes a crippling reverence for the past – Covenant too often plays it safe in a way that Prometheus, for all its faults, rarely did.

Set a decade after the events on LV-223, it centres on the 15-strong crew of the colony ship Covenant: pioneers responsible for transporting 2000 passengers to Origae-6. After intercepting a signal from an undiscovered planet a landing party is dispatched to investigate. Among their ranks are Katherine Waterston’s proto-Ripley Daniels, Damian Bichir’s military man Sgt. Lope and Billy Crudup’s Captain Oram. But this apparent paradise has a dark heart - albeit a mechanical one possessed by its sole inhabitant, Michael Fassbender’s surviving android David.

Few filmmakers can rival Scott’s world-building and Covenant’s lush planetoid – all vertiginous mountain ranges and precipitous forests – does offer something strikingly new for the series. Entirely devoid of organic life, it’s a haunted house on the grandest possible scale, with all the biomechanical stylings, otherworldly architecture and creeping corridors of Aliens past lurking in its dark corners. The Covenant itself, meanwhile, skews much closer to the lived-in, retro-future feel of the Nostromo than the Apple Store sheen of the Prometheus; Scott’s sci-fi future is grounded by convincing science.

Populated by a blue-collar crew, the Covenant’s inhabitants are a thinly sketch, but largely likeable bunch of ET-fodder, the group dynamic complicated and enriched by the fact that everyone on board is married. Crudup’s nervy, staunchly religious replacement Captain stands out as a believably human creation. And Waterston proves a suitably resourceful and empathetic lead. But it’s Fassbender who once again makes the biggest splash as both new artificial person Walter (effectively a robot Spock) and duplicitous droid David. The scenes between the two bots are some of the most compelling and poignant, cutting to the heart of Scott’s thematic mission with his Alien prequel series – an exploration of the relationship between man and his creator. But David’s entry into the story sees the film’s propulsive pacing grind to a halt, the script crumbling as it hurtles towards a climax that plays out like a mini-remake of Alien, with some clumsy leaps of logic in service of predictable surprises.

But what of the xenomorph? H.R. Giger’s biomechanical beauty is back in Covenant, its re-introduction expanding the mythology in satisfying ways for long-term fans. But the xeno encapsulates the film’s disappointing dependency on past glories. Not only has the man-in-a-suit been replaced by unconvincing CGI, the pharyngeal-jawed phantom is wheeled out for set-pieces that deal in underwhelming bombast rather than nevre-shredding dread. It’s never used as effectively as you’d hope, and is upstaged by new nasty the Neomorph, a creature modelled on a Goblin Shark. The jittery critter’s entrance has a literally visceral impact the rest of the film can’t rival for pulse-pounding terror and bum-clenching body horror. A shame, then, that the Neo is quickly forgotten when plot and audience expectation dictates the xeno occupy the limelight.

Also problematic: Jed Kurzel’s score, which lifts motifs and entire tracks wholesale from Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic Alien soundtrack. What starts as a goosebump-inducing nod quickly has you wondering if someone forgot to replace the temp track. As with much of Covenant, it gives you more of what you want from an Alien film, but proves it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

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The Verdict

3

3 out of 5

Alien: Covenant review: "Aggressively bloody and high of bodycount... but rarely intimidating"

Sharper, meaner, and meatier than Prometheus, Covenant's weak narrative drive stalls its brutal good intentions.