The world premiere of Alien: Covenant took place recently in London, but full reviews were still under embargo until yesterday, when critics were given an all-access screening of the much-anticipated latest installment of director Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise.
In Alien: Covenant audiences are taken on board a giant spaceship traveling to a distant galaxy carrying a crew and 2,000 men and women who are destined to populate an unchartered planet that is capable of sustaining human life. Headline stars Katherine Waterson and Billy Crudup are in command of the vessel when it lands on what seems like a veritable paradise. Here they meet an android-like character played by Michael Fassbender who at first appears to be the lone survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition. The so-called paradise quickly becomes an ominous and dangerous world when an infamous alien lifeform begins to pick off humans one by one.
Let’s take a look at what some of the critics have said so far.
So far the reviews have been mostly positive, scoring an aggregate of 77 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer based on 13 reviews and counting. A whopping 97 percent of Google users have liked the film so far.
The Telegraph gave Alien: Covenant an unstinting five stars, describing the film’s director and creator, Ridley Scott, as a “mad scientist” who “creates terror on a towering scale.”
“[Alien: Covenant] leaves the mythos feeling riper and more vitalised than ever.”
Clearly not short on evocative adjectives, film critic Robbie Collin says Alien: Covenant is “grandiose, exhilarating, vertiginously cynical and symphonically perverse, and around a million miles from the crowd-pleasing Alien retread Twentieth Century Fox have presumably been begging the 79-year-old director to make.”
Collin contends that the film certainly has it’s “Alien-like moments” that do justice to the franchise’s famous “fears of penetration, pregnancy and childbirth,” and believes that this installment creates alien-birth sequences that “rival John Hurt’s classic cafeteria-table writhe-and-pop, as well as a new-but-related and sickeningly effective strand of horror that plays on the sanctity of human fetuses.”
Collin adds to the overall critics’ consensus which appears to be that the shining star of the film is Michael Fassbender. In this critic’s view, Fassbender’s “control of body language is so total, so supreme, that entire tracts of his work here – in both roles – can be read in two incompatible ways. He doesn’t make you doubt the character, but yourself.”
For Robbie Collin, “the full implications of its final sequence are so purely horrific that [he] left the cinema feeling (…in the best possible way) physically sick.”
Reviewing Alien: Covenant for the Independent, Clarisse Loughrey also gave the film an enthusiastic five stars.
“It’s everything you could ever want from an Alien movie.”
Loughrey reflects on the strangeness of the Alien franchise, questioning its ever fluctuating identity, ebbing and flowing between “claustrophobic, sweat-dripped horror” and “gun-toting action,” and a mesmerising “philosophical treatise, a piece of operatic myth-making.”
According to Loughrey, Alien: Covenant has “arrived as the grand unifier” of the franchise, resulting in a “mightily impressive piece of cinematic engineering.” She highlights the dark and foreboding tones and praises the return to the “relentless tension that marked the 1979 original.”
Loughrey particularly liked the films “sense of blind panic,” and thoroughly enjoyed the rare blockbuster scenario of “a group of people standing around screaming because they have no idea what to do,” leading to a series of “stupid decisions” which, according to Loughrey, is at once infuriating but also “the most likely scenario to happen.”
Die hard Alien fans are well-acquainted with the structure of Ridley Scott’s epic opus, expecting to see an “infection starts small” but then builds to a horrific crescendo. However, this time “Scott finds mischievous delight in carefully tracking the first parasite’s journey into the first victim’s ear canal, and down to burrow into their bloodstream.” Loughrey’s heart was beating in her chest and didn’t stop until the credits rolled.
This critic concurs that Fassbender delivers the stand-out performance, portraying “the deeply frightening, scene-stealing antagonist that’s been missing from much of Hollywood cinema of late.”
However, actress Katherine Waterston “puts in some incredible work” as she “crafts a character entirely unique to her own talent; she’s just as smart and capable of leadership, but there’s a touch of fragility there, of suppressed emotions stirring violently behind those wide brown eyes.”
Finally, Loughrey says that Alien: Covenant is “relentless and overwhelming, but all in the very best of ways.”
Todd McCarthy, reviewing Alien: Covenant for The Hollywood Reporter, thinks that “there’s life in the old bugger yet” and enjoyed the gripping and surprising plot. He was pleased by the freshness of this instalment and believes audiences will consistently be on their toes “right up to the concluding scene, which leaves the audience with such a great reveal” that fans will be frustrated by having to wait for the next chapter.
“Stylistically, the film is a thing of cool beauty, with superb effects and a lovely score. Creatively, it’s a major re-set on a level with the series’ best.”
However, not all reviews were as universally exultant. While Bryan Bishop from The Verge thought that Alien: Covenant generally delivered on its promise to be “full of terrifying, heart-pounding terror, on par with some of the best work in Scott’s career,” he also felt that it was not the “home run that sci-fi and horror fans might have been hoping for.”
The Guardian gave Alien: Covenant a lacklustre three stars and said the film was “capably made but plays like a greatest-hits compilation of the original films’ freakiest moments.” For this critic, the film was pure Deja Vu.
“The paradox is that though you are intended to recognise these touches, you won’t really be impressed unless you happen to be seeing them for the first time.”
According to CNET, Michael Fassbender was the redeeming element of Alien: Covenant. However, “as intriguing as the middle section’s philosophical chats between Fassbender and Fassbender are, they happen at too leisurely a pace.” In fact, the whole affair struggles to sustain suspense. According to CNET, Alien: Covenant doesn’t “quite measure up to the nerve-shredding suspense, action and horror of the classic movies.”
Forbes praised the film’s seamless blend of “big ideas about creation and the morality of species preservation (and the value of humanity as a species) with big-budget monster violence.” The film’s structure also received a nod from this critic, even though the characters felt one-dimensional.
“While much of the cast is underdeveloped, they are played by a deep bench of character actors who do their best to stick out before they become incubators and/or collateral damage.”
According to Forbes, Alien: Covenant is “still a pretty cut-and-dried Alien movie, and “if that’s what you want, this is a relatively high-quality version and it works as high-toned horror entertainment.”
Finally, Variety‘s critic, Peter Debruge, begrudgingly declared Alien: Covenant as “more of the same, which is both a relief to fans and a letdown to those hoping it might pave new ground.” Yet, on a more positive note, Debruge celebrated Ridley Scott’s uncanny ability to produce high production value.
“[The film] looks as good as a blockbuster can, alternating stunning interstellar vistas with gorgeously lit character moments, courtesy of DP Dariusz Wolski.”
Alien: Covenant releases in the United States on May 19, 2017.
[Featured Image by Joel Ryan/AP Images]