Updated: 23rd April 2018

Alien: Covenant review Ridley Scott’s latest space exploration feels all too familiar

Scotts sequel to the Prometheus prequel is capably made but plays like a greatest-hits compilation of the original films freakiest moments

Its back, with its vicious little fangs, squidgily formless body and nasty receding skull that swoops and tapers down the back of its neck, like the helmet of an Olympic cyclist. Ridley Scotts parasitic space alien has returned for this watchable if unoriginal sci-fi thriller though it doesnt grow all that much these days. Michael Fassbender is back, too, as the creepy deadpan robot who glides around in the style of a Jeeves/Lecter hybrid, wearing a tight-fitting outfit apparently made out of nylon, and in which he appears as flat-fronted in the trouser department as Barbies boyfriend Ken. And Scott himself has again returned to the helm of the Alien franchise he effectively created with the first film in 1979, before ceding directorial control to James Cameron, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet for the sequels, and others for the novelty bouts with Predator.

This movie is a sequel to the prequel Prometheus, which Scott directed in 2012, a movie that was there supposedly to set up the events in the first film, all about a space quest for mankinds Dniken-esque origin on other planets. Prometheus was set in 2094; this is happening 10 years later, in 2104, with a colonist ship, called the Covenant, travelling for years through space, intended to set up a plantation on a distant world which appears to have the means to support human life. But the terrified crew encounter an awful truth about the Prometheus, as well as a sharp-toothed, uninvited little guest.

Alien: Covenant trailer

Of course, it is futile to concern yourself with the timeline of the Alien films when effectively they are happening in parallel, not in sequence. They are variations on the same theme. The one change is that Prometheus and Alien: Covenant take the legendary android reveal at the end of the first Alien, and matter-of-factly incorporate it into the prequels as part of the establishing premise.

This film inflates Fassbenders robot role hugely. He first appears in an eerie, interesting opening sequence which the rest of the film cannot really match: a huge white room, with a grand piano, a panorama-window showing some generic alpine landscape, a full-scale model of Michelangelos David, and other high-art objects. There we find Fassbenders robot being questioned by his testy scientist-creator Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and invited to choose a name for himself, the robot hubristically says David, after the statue.

Key component: Michael Fassbender as David in Alien: Covenant. Photograph: Mark Rogers/Fox Film

Inspired by his own achievement in fashioning this humanoid robot, Weyland himself insists that there must be a creationist meaning and purpose to the universe, a religious theme that is, vaguely, to recur. In Prometheus, Noomi Rapaces space voyager Dr Elizabeth Shaw wore a cross around her neck; in Alien: Covenant a crew member wears the cross of David. It could be a reference to the robots name.

But when we recognise this robot again, on board the Covenant, there are some immediately obvious changes, whose point is revealed later. A freak electrical storm awakens the crew prematurely from their artificial hibernation (rather as in the movie Passengers, with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, which riffed on the idea slightly more interestingly) and a calamity means that the unlikable rationalist Oram (Billy Crudup) is promoted to captain, with Daniels (Katherine Waterston) and Tennessee (Danny McBride) his immediate subordinates. The catastrophe means his crew are reluctant to resume their deep sleep and instead become fixated on an alternative possibility: another planet, hardly a few weeks voyage from their current position, on which there appears to be evidence of human life and which presents itself as a ready-made new home.

Should they chance everything by going down and taking a look? Should they, much more to the point, walk around down there without their protective helmets and spacesuits on, so that evil spores from little pod-like growths can get into their ear canals and up their noses? Have these people learned nothing at all?

Just as in Prometheus, the action is opened out from the claustrophobic confines of the spaceship to the vast prospects of a distant planet, which turns out to be a mix of Pompeii and Easter Island. There is a wonderful long shot of the explorers in the darkness of this planet, the tiny green beams of their torches darting around them.

The vu has never been so dja: its a greatest-hits compilation of the other Alien films freaky moments. The paradox is that though you are intended to recognise these touches, you wont really be impressed unless you happen to be seeing them for the first time. For all this, the film is very capably made, with forceful, potent performances from Waterston and Fassbender. That franchise title is, however, looking increasingly wrong. It is a bit familiar.

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