Following his 2012 prequel to Alien (titled Prometheus), director Ridley Scott makes his return to the Alien franchise with Alien: Covenant. Continuing off of the events that had occurred in Prometheus, Scott wastes little time in letting the audience know that he’s beginning to bring the franchise back to its true form. Although positively received, Prometheus left fans split because of the shift in direction and tone that deviated from what made the original film so special. Rather than focusing on the terror of an alien creature in the shadows, Scott explored the concepts of creation itself and philosophy behind human evolution. This raised many questions that were left unanswered by the end, giving Covenant the position to serve as the key to those answers.
The film opens with Jerry Goldsmith’s legendary Alien theme gracing the opening sequence, with the words “Alien: Covenant” slowly making its way onto the screen. It is a beautiful, bone-chilling moment because at that very second, you realize you are back in deep space where nobody can hear you scream. Prometheus carried an interesting concept, but fell flat with execution and delivery in the sense of recapturing the Alien energy. Covenant does a great job of continuing those concepts, but ups it a notch with the addition of the Alien flavor. The xenomorph is indeed back on the big screen in all of its frightful, malevolent glory, but somehow serves as a sidekick. The true stars of this film are the two androids, David and Walter (Michael Fassbender).
The film opens with an interesting conversation between David and his creator, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce). They discuss the mysteries of life, setting up the underlying theme of God and the purpose of creation itself. If you’ve seen Prometheus, you know what happens next, as the movie cuts to ten years after the space journey Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and David embarked on.
The year is 2104 and the crew aboard the ship named “Covenant” are on a colonization mission to begin new life on planet Origae-6. After receiving a random, yet convenient transmission alerting them of a nearer inhabitable planet with better living conditions, the crew is left with a decision to either take the risk and settle early or continue on with their original seven-plus year journey. Despite officer Daniels’ (Katherine Waterston) skepticism, newly promoted captain Oram (Billy Crudup) makes the decision to settle down and land on this untested environment. Although there is breathable air, water and human vegetation, the planet is surrounded with complete silence. And as time passes, the crew realizes that their paradise has turned into a hell.
Although Prometheus passed as a solid sci-fi drama, it failed with the fans as a successor to the Alien name in terms of horror and action. That isn’t the case with Covenant, as Scott combines the best of both worlds, fusing elements from both films. There are plenty of Alien-isms to go around, and Scott makes sure of it. Mother, the ship’s main computer, makes a return as well as facehuggers, chestbursters and a prototype version of the iconic xenomorph.
The overall tone of the film is dark and full of brutal violence, leaving little hope for survival with the characters on the screen. Once the story and setting is established, the hunt for human flesh is relentless and unforgiving. Even though the terror that the alien creatures bring to the screen are present, it is nowhere near as threatening as it was in the original film. This is due to some narrative issues that unfortunately hold the film back from being the horror epic it was promised to be.
Although moments can get unsettling, Scott fails to recapture the momentum that was set up in the original film. This is due to the lack of narrative urgency with the characters. The 15-member crew come off as faceless and expendable. Aside from Tennessee (Danny McBride) and arguably Daniels, you won’t care about the rest of the crew. It’s unfortunate, yet tolerable because the strongest and most appealing performance comes from Fassbender’s portrayal of David and Walter, the two androids. Although played by the same actor, they are very different. You’ll learn about what happens after the events of Prometheus and why David is left in the state that he’s in. The two androids then form this bizarre relationship that branches off into an interesting subplot that explores the depths of humanity and creation itself (similar to the conversation between David and Weyland). It’s an odd, yet compelling element that brings an interesting twist to what is otherwise a typical sci-fi adventure by the time the third act unfolds.
If you’re expecting Covenant to encapsulate the horror of the original, you might be disappointed. However, if Prometheus rubbed you the wrong way on an entertainment level, Covenant has got you covered. There are many sequences that give nods to the original, but be aware that Scott takes narrative turns that head in the opposite direction. Rather than embedding the sadistic psychosexual nature of these alien species through imagery, it is done through dialogue. However, the threat of the alien creature makes its presence felt throughout the film, unlike with Prometheus, and that alone (along with Fassbender) is worth the admission price.
With a third and fourth prequel installment in the works, it’s going to be interesting to see how Scott brings this origin story to a close. Hopefully the questions that were raised in Prometheus (that have still yet to be answered through Covenant) get brought into the light. The concept of creation is an intriguing element that Scott brings forth and deserves a fitting close. It would be a shame to leave these films without a definitive answer as to why this mythology exists.
FINAL SCORE: B