Alien fans should be very excited that Director Ridley Scott has returned to fast-moving, exciting horror sci-fi with his latest, ALIEN COVENANT.
Ranking a solid #3 in the series for me behind James Cameron's "Aliens" and Scott's original 1979 film "Alien", COVENANT starts off strong and never lets up.
The opening flashback scene is a quiet meeting between Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and his android David (Michael Fassbender) as they speak about creation, intelligence, faith and the quest for knowledge.
The screen then fills with a view of space and the legendary ALIEN title appearing on screen in the same style it did in '79, over Jerry Goldsmith's original score from that film, enough to excite any true "Alien" fan. You know from that moment that Scott is going to reward long time fans of the series with references both audio and visual for the next two hours.
And those two hours move fast.
We move ten years after the events of the last film, "Prometheus".
We meet the crew of the colony ship Covenant as they are awoken seven years early by an emergency on the ship. (Do these long journeys of sleep ever go off without a hitch? Between "Planet of the Apes", "Passengers" and the nasty occurences here, I'm thinking that a long nap is the most hazardous part of the voyage!)
They are told by the onboard computer Mother (welcome back Mother!) that there is an ideal planet for colonization very nearby. Why wait seven more years when their mission can start on a beautiful, human-friendly planet nearby!
No spoiler alerts necessary, I'm not going to tell you what happens from that point forward, but suffice to say, the planet holds it's own secrets that blend perfectly into the story arc of our Alien creatures.
The last film set up a mythology in which creation began, with the creators sparking the beginning of human life and then creating a very different and terrifying life form to correct their mistakes.
COVENANT tells two stories simultaneously, the fast moving story of our colonists on a terrifying planet and the backstory of what happened on this planet between the creators and other characters in our story.
The cast is excellent.
Katherine Waterston is our new Ripley-like heroine Daniels, morphing from emotional devastation to kick-ass action star in the story.
Billy Crudup is great as Oram, thrust into a leadership role and wrestling with his faith in the face of his discoveries.
Danny McBride, who I think is the funniest guy on the planet in HBO's "Vice Principals" plays pure drama here with equal skill as crew member Tennessee.
Jussie Smollet has great screen presence as Ricks and Callie Hernandez is great as Upworth.
At the film's center in dual roles is Michael Fassbender as android David and a newer model aboard the Covenant named Walter.
He's fantastic. Menacing, compassionate, cunning and caring, you're challenged with which android is which and forced to think about their motivation. Fassbender's every move is perfect.
There are numerous fantastic action sequences, staged by Scott and his fantastic director of photography Darius Wolski (The Martian, The Walk) as big screen spectacles on an amazing scale.
Savvy long-time fans of the series will find dozens of fun references to the original ALIEN, including battles on the outside of crafts near thrusters, clever uses of the airlock, opening and closing hatches, a certain "roller coaster ride, straight down" and even that tiny toy bird on a control panel, dipping back and forth into a glass of water. Alien fans know what I'm talking about.
Jerry Goldsmith's music is referenced throughout, woven into a new and clever music score by Jed Kurzel (who cut his teeth on small films like "The Babadook" and "Slow West") that also references Marc Streitenfeld's music from "Prometheus" that I didn't even know I remembered until I heard it again.
The planet visuals are stunning on the big screen, like New Zealand on steroids and the Creator City is jaw dropping, making Pompeii pale by comparison.
Fast, intelligent, bloody scary and graphic, the alien creatures have never looked or moved better than they do with Scott's blend of mechanical effects and 2017 CGI technology.
I did have a creeping feeling as the film began to wrap up that I wished it would have unveiled a bigger part of the story arc, but as the second film in Scott's planned four film series, it's tasked with teasing you for the next two, which it does very well.
It would have also been nice to see Oram's questions about faith explored a bit more in relation to what's unveiled on the planet. Some of the dialogue between David and Weyland in the prologue is so good, it makes you wish those level of questions about life and our place in the universe were sustained throughout.
The fact that Ridley Scott continues to even address them within the framework of one of the best sci-fi/horror film series ever created, nearly 40 years after the original film, is the gift that continues to deliver.
ALIEN COVENANT is a summer movie blast, filled with gory shocks and surprises and a few laughs along the way to relieve the tension. But don't get too relaxed, there's something terrifying right around that corner ready to jump on your face.....
COVENANT gets an A-.