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Alien: Covenant

Year: 2017
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Jack Paglen/Michael Green/John Logan/Dante Harper
Cast: Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo

For such a classic franchise, it's worth remembering that most of the movies in the Alien saga have been pretty forgettable. The first and second are well-deserved modern classics, but everything since – even with some of the best directors working behind them – have sucked pretty hard. Even Ridley Scott himself got a critical kicking over Prometheus.

As expected however, and despite all protestations from Scott and Fox marketing that Prometheus wasn't an Alien film, ('it merely shares some of its DNA' was the party line at the time), this movie represents the connective tissue between Prometheus and the rest of the story, explaining what happened after the former and how it led to the latter.

We meet another space-going crew of ragged roughnecks and the first thought that strikes you is that it's a fairly tired motif – how many more groups of people with excesses of personality tics are we going to see munched on by xenomorphs? This time the crew of the colony ship Covenant is woken up early by a disaster that kills some of them and casts a pall over the rest of the mission.

Carrying thousands of people in cryostasis, the surviving command crew discovers another planet that might suit their purposes closer to the one they intend to settle (big mistake), so they land there instead. It's a stormy, misty, windswept world, lush with flora but absolutely no animal life, and when they find the enormous horseshoe shaped alien ship crashed on a hillside that we last saw menacing Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender in Prometheus, we know much better than they do they should leave well enough alone.

David (Fassbender) is actually still operating, seemingly half crazed and having set up an erstwhile home in the ruins of the abandoned city that overlooks a grand plaza built by some ancient, long-dead alien race. While he regales half of the crew with what's been going on in the century or so since the events of Prometheus, the rest of the quasi-military ranks of the Covenant find themselves under siege outside.

First, after unwittingly ingesting miniscule spores from plants, several of their number get sick and start to exhibit familiar chest bursting symptoms. The creatures that emerge then attack the rest of the crew as night descends, destroying their lander and leaving them stranded while the Covenant orbits overhead, unable to contact them through the storm.

The reveals that connect the whole multi-film story together come when the creepy David tells everyone what he's been doing since Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace) died and the true origins of the titular creatures.

When the Gigerian alien in all its glory is finally unleashed, the race is on for the surviving members to get the hell out of this stark paradise before it chows down on them too.

Like Prometheus, it's not the best film in the franchise. It gives you everything you think you want from an Alien movie, but the constraints might just be a little tight on this mythology. It feels like much the same thing as at least the first two classic films, and if there's anything new to say it's only the threads that tie Prometheus to everything else.

Fassbender is given a few Shakespearian scenes playing both the old android David and the new one, Walter in the same shot, playing a small flute enigmatically and debating the possibilities of androids loving humans, but aside from the plotting their characters are involved in they serve only to hold up the proceedings to further cement the dark, eerie mood of what David has been doing.

The creatures and effects are a little bit too over-digitised, but it's exciting enough and has a few scares in the right places. More than anything else, it might prove that the Alien universe is played out – a neat, fun little motif to signify that might have been the Covenant gliding off into space and intercepting a radio transmission from the approaching Nostromo.

There's also one big problem with the marketing. Like everyone else with an internet connection I watched the sequence of Daniels (Katherine Waterston) giving the crew the hopeful pep talk, about how the Covenant is home to married couples who'll represent history's first big extraterrestrial colonisation project and how they should all be proud, etc – that monologue also found its way into the trailer.

So when the film opens with the disaster that kills so many people, the rest of them waking up terrified, miserable and then in mourning, I thought the movie was missing a reel or something. That sequence did a good job of setting up the characters and story, but the marketing misrepresenting it as being in the actual movie distracted me too much from the story unfolding.

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