In Alien: Covenant, a nostalgic piece of cinema that reminds us how everything was better before Jamie Oliver invented healthy school meals, a crew of basically nameless colonists travel through space for seven years in search of a plot. They don’t find one. Instead, they intercept a rogue transmission that leads them to an incredibly racist planet, where anything black impregnates you. The resulting offspring, which bursts from your chest like a stripper from a massive cake, is an abominable hybrid of Prometheus and Alien that screams in agony upon birth, instantly begging to be put out of its misery as it sucks in air through a hole in the side of its head.
That was my impression, anyway. I’d recently rewatched all of the previous Alien films, ageing 47 years in the process, and quickly come to the conclusion that, apart from Ridley Scott’s 1979 original, they’re all a bit trousers. Controversially, that even includes James Cameron’s Aliens, which is ultimately a larger scale retread of the first one that sacrifices its claustrophobic and simplistic appeal for a showdown with the alien equivalent of Beyoncé. The even more expansive follow-ups, Alien 3 and Alien: Whatever, further spliced the franchise’s DNA until it became some sort of spluttering mutant, like your neglected child that you keep chained up in the basement.
But now, with Scott returning to direct this prequel saga, we have something even less recognisable. Prometheus turned its back on the aliens with cycling helmets for heads – because those aren’t necessary in an Alien film – and introduced a faith-based, creationist element, which is explored in greater detail in Covenant. The main vehicle through which this is communicated is Michael Fassbender, who plays two different synthetic beings, one of which has a perverse God complex because he’s been stuck watching David Attenborough documentaries on a loop for the last couple of decades.
In the film’s best scene, and by best I mean the moment I yawned internally and decided this was genuinely terrible, that particular version of Fassbender erotically plays Wagner on a flute, spitting on it and working his hand up and down like he’s polishing a rail. He does this to demonstrate to the other version of himself that they are special; certainly more so than humans, who wouldn’t make half as much money offering their services on street corners. Later on, an explanation of the origin of the Xenomorph is offered up, which completely tarnishes the mythology of their existence. By the end of the film, they’re transformed into pure, innocent creatures that can actually be controlled if you blow on their face. It really is as fucking stupid as it sounds.
Then Scott must have had an air bubble in his chest and panicked or something, because he suddenly tries to remake Alien. Having spent the majority of the film in wide-open spaces and letting the horribly computer-generated Xenomorph roam around in broad daylight, as if to make sure all potential terror is removed, the final sequence harks back to the claustrophobic corridors of a spaceship. Katherine Waterston’s Daniels is supposedly the stand-in for Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, because she gets to wear a vest, but she only really turns into the protagonist when she plays Marco Polo with the alien. I didn’t pick up the names of the other characters because I was staring at the ceiling and thinking about biscuits, but I was vaguely pleased when a host of them died. Billy Crudup was all right as an idiot captain, and I think Danny McBride was called Kentucky.
Overall, Alien: Covenant is a confused mixture of philosophical references and actual alien stuff that desperately misses the simplicity and mystery of the 1979 masterpiece. It suffers from a major identity crisis, like a facehugger that attaches itself to Nicole Kidman and spits out some ungodly mess with wings in its eyes.
Two out of five.
Alien: Covenant is out May 12.