Monday, 22 May 2017

ALIEN : COVENANT : Tuesday 16th May 2017.

'ALIEN : COVENANT' which I saw last week is a franchise that was launched 38 years ago by an up & coming Director, Ridley Scott. Here, he is back with his Science Fiction horror touchstone that began with only his second feature film Directorial outing, 'Alien' back in 1979 that has so far seen six films under the 'Alien' banner and two spin offs with the 'Alien vs. Predator' franchise. This highly anticipated prequel to the events leading up to that seminal 1979 film, is the second in the prequel series that Scott relaunched in his 2012 film 'Prometheus', and the third film out of the six that he has Directed. Scott has confirmed already that the Screenplay for the third prequel is written and he hopes to begin shooting what is currently reported as being 'Alien : Awakening' sometime in 2018. The Director has no intention it seems of letting go of the franchise he created having stated that 'Alien : Covenant' would be the first of three more films before linking up with original 'Alien', starting a new trilogy of Sci-Fi films. Made for US$97M the film has so far grossed US$118M, and went on release in the US only a few days ago on 19th May.

The film opens up with a prologue set in the past with Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) the trillionaire founder and CEO of Weyland Corporation that funded the earlier Prometheus expedition, in discussion with David (Michael Fassbender) the new synthetic prototype android created by Weyland who was a crew member aboard the ill fated Prometheus. They discuss the meaning of existence and creation from an expansive pristine room overlooking mountain terrain in the distance. Weyland tells David that's one day they will explore the Universe together in search of mankind's creator.

We then fast forward to 2104 where the crew of the colony ship 'Covenant' containing terraforming expert Daniels (Katherine Waterston); her husband Jacob Branson (James Franco) the Captain of the ship; Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) the First Mate; Tennessee Faris (Danny McBride) the Chief Pilot; Sergeant Lope (Damien Bachir) the Head of Security; and Walter (Michael Fassbender) a synthetic android and an identical yet upgraded version of his David android from the previous film, are en route to remote planet Origae-6. The crew are all in stasis sleep, being overseen by Walter, who is also the guardian of two thousand or so sleeping colonists and a thousand embryo's all destined to kick start the population once they reach their Origae-6 destination, still a number of years in travel time away. When a seismic burst from a passing planet hits the ship causing damage to its retractable solar panels and hence its power source, Walter gives the onboard computer the order to wake the crew. In the confusion that ensues the pod containing Captain Jacob Branson malfunctions and he dies, with his wife looking on. As the crew set about repairing the damage and normality is resumed, the crew congregate over a moment of much needed levity as First Mate Oram steps up to take charge following the Captains death.

Whilst repairs are ongoing to the damaged solar panel, a human radio transmission message is intercepted  from a nearby hitherto unknown planet. Oram decides that they need to investigate as their early investigations seem to indicate that the uncharted planet might be capable of sustaining human life and may be a better option than Origae-6. Daniels disagrees, and has a private conversation with her new Captain expressing her reservations about exploring this alternative world, fearing the unknown and despite the first impressions of its attractiveness.

And so an exploratory mission is launched onto the planet from whence the radio signal originated. The Covenant stays in orbit, while the expedition team descend to the surface in a landing vehicle. Biologist Karine Oram (Carmen Ejogo), wife of the newly appointed Captain, and Ledward (Benjamin Rigby) head off to collect ecological samples, while the others go off in search of the suspected crashed Engineer ship which Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and David piloted ten years before following the doomed Prometheus mission.

As the two parties head off in different directions, two security team members in each group become infected by microscopic alien spores. Within no time, Ledward starts convulsing and contorting in pain. Karine Oram senses that something is not quite right and helps him back to the landing vehicle and radios ahead to Maggie Faris (Amy Seimetz) to prepare the medical bay for quarantine. Once inside Ledward's condition worsens, and then a Neomorph erupts from his back, killing him. It grows quickly and attacks Karine, killing her too. Faris meanwhile sends out a distress warning to the others, which is overheard by the crew left on the Covenant who all start to panic about the events unfolding on the landing vehicle. Faris tries to shoot the alien creature, and in her panic hits a number of gas cylinders causing them to explode in a ball of flame which destroys the landing vehicle. As the party returning from tracking the signal approach the carnage, so the second security team member, Hallett (Nathaniel Dean) who was also infected by alien spores has another Neomorph burst from his throat, killing him too.

As the remaining on ground crew attempt to contact the Covenant, they are attacked by two Neomorph's under cover of darkness killing Ankor (Alexander England) another from the security detail. The crew manage to kill one of the Neomorph's and Walter comes to the rescue of Daniel's by punching at an advancing Neomorph but sacrificing his hand in the process. David then emerges out of the darkness and leads the surviving crew members to a place of safety - a deserted alien city full of petrified corpses. David explains this away by stating that the Engineer ship released inadvertently a bioweapon wiping out the native populace, and then crashed killing Elizabeth Shaw. Meanwhile inside their supposed safe haven, the surviving Neomorph kills and decapitates another crew member, Rosenthal (Tess Haubrich).

Captain Oram searching for the missing Rosenthal, comes across David who is attempting to communicate with the Neomorph. Because David is synthetic, he is safe from attack by the alien creature. As Oram has the alien in his laser sights David asks him not to shoot, but Oram does killing the Neomorph. David is outraged, and upon Oram's demands reveals his activities that have been keeping him busy these past ten years. He has been experimenting and creating early Neomorph's that have evolved over time. He leads Oram into a chamber and reveals several eggs that have continued his experimentation process, urging Oram to take a closer look - for the contents therein are harmless enough! At which points a facehugger erupts from the egg and secures itself firmly on Oram's head implanting an embryo inside. Sometime later Oram comes round as a Xenomorph bursts from his chest, so killing him.

Walter then confronts David having discovered the truth behind his experiments. David wiped out the Engineers population by deliberately releasing the bioweapons, and murdered Shaw as a means of advancing his experiments - as evidenced in graphic pencil drawings made by David as a means of his record keeping. A fight breaks out between the two synthetic androids and David overpowers and disables Walter, who then captures Daniels who has also discovered the grisly secrets of David's past ten years. Walter regenerates himself and the two androids fight once more, allowing Daniels to escape to the approaching Covenant rescue vehicle. The Xenomorph that burst from Oram's chest is by now fully grown and goes in pursuit of the escaping Daniels and Lope. As Tennessee arrives in a rescue landing vehicle, so Daniels, Lope and the victorious Walter make it abroad just as the attacking Xenomorph jumps onto the lander as it takes off.  Mayhem ensues as Daniels tethers herself onto the outside of the lander, which by now is in flight, and goes head to head with the alien eventually capturing it and dispensing with it overboard with the aid of a crane.

Lope meanwhile became implanted with an embryo which burst forth after the rescue lander docked with the Covenant, and in growing mature quickly dispenses with Ricks and Upworth (Jussie Smollett and Callie Hernandez respectively). With Tennessee, Daniels and Walter being the only surviving crew members and an unidentified lifeform on board, its up to the two humans to flush out the marauding alien and kill it, or be killed. They successfully do flush it out, corner it and launch it into space impaled on the jaws of mega truck.

Safe from any further alien activity the Covenant returns to complete its original mission. Tennessee is put into cryosleep, leaving Walter to put Daniels into stasis, but in doing so a terrible secret is revealed that Daniels only discovers as her cryosleep pod is closed, and she is put to sleep.

'Alien : Covenant' is a worthy follow up that answers many of the questions left wanting after the end of 'Prometheus', but still leaves plenty of room for manoeuvre in upcoming instalments to keep this prequel franchise alive and fresh . . . hopefully! The film moves along at a good pace once the necessary first introductory scenes are dealt with and we get to the know the characters, their traits, their reason for being and we get down and dirty on the alien planet. That's when the thrills, the tension and the blood and gore come into their own and Scott knows when to turn it on and show some restraint too. The story here too begins to make a lot more sense than its predecessor, which when coupled with our man eating facehugging chestbusting alien crustaceans will please fans of the series. But, for me what the film picked up in Michael Fassbender's dual performances as Walter and David, was let down by the less noteworthy relatable crew members who for the most part are just alien fodder. Even Waterstone as the kick-ass Ripley wannabe, looks the part but just failed to reach her mark as Sigourney Weaver did so well in the first two most noteworthy films. Despite that, and the final action set piece where the alien succumbs to the wrath of Daniels and Tennessee which is a little lame by Scott's and Cameron's earlier climatic endings, the film is a return to form for the franchise and well worth the price of your ticket.

-Steve, at Odeon Online-

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