In 2012, Ridley Scott returned to the world of Alien, which he helped create in 1979, with Prometheus, a somewhat prequel that the director had the “same DNA” as his sci-fi horror classic. Few films are as divisive as Prometheus. It drove a wedge between fans and is still the subject of heated debates. You’re not going to find a defense of Prometheus here. It’s a movie with big ideas, middling execution, and a fantastic production design but falls short of its lofty ambitions. It underwhelmed because we don’t always need to the origins of the things that frighten us and the film left a number of loose ends unresolved. Once again, Ridley Scott has returned to the cold, dark recesses of space with Alien: Covenant, which also operates as a loose sequel to Prometheus. Those nervous about Covenant following Prometheus can breathe a big sigh of relief because this is a captivating entry in the Alien saga that builds upon the series’ mythology while delivering plenty of terrifying moments along the way.
The crew of 15 aboard the Covenant are in hyper-sleep as their ship makes the journey through space to the planet Oregai-6, where the crew and their cargo of 2,000 people will colonize the new planet. The needs of the ship are monitored by the synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender) as the years pass on this incredibly long venture. A shockwave caused by solar flares damages the ship and wakes up the crew, except for their captain who is killed in his hyper-sleep pod. The captain was Daniels’ (Katherine Waterson) husband and now she must confront the tragedy of settling into a new life on a new planet without the man she loves. Meanwhile, Oram (Billy Crudup) assumes command of the ship and orders a number of repairs during which the crew receives a mangled transmission. They trace it back to an undiscovered planet that is relatively nearby with an atmosphere that is habitable for humans. With a crew nervous to reenter hyper-sleep, Oram orders his ship to investigate the planet despite the objections of Daniels, hoping to find a shortcut to a new world for colonizing. In space, shortcuts are never a good idea.
The first half of Alien: Covenant mirrors the original Alien, with Scott taking a deliberate approach to the film’s pacing. It gives the audience time to become acquainted with these new characters but, like Prometheus, only a handful of characters are presented with any level of depth. Daniels’ grief over the death of her husband and the new life she planned are clearly illustrated as is Oram’s uneasy hold with his new command and his feelings that his crew doesn’t trust him. That’s really the most depth provided to the human characters of the film, with supporting players like Tennessee (Danny McBride) and Lope (Demian Bichir) getting little moments of personal flavor. The real standout performance of Alien: Covenant comes in the form of Michael Fassbender’s Walter, and he also makes an appearance in the film’s opening scene as David from Prometheus in a flashback. The combination of Fassbender’s immaculate good looks and his quiet demeanor makes him a perfect android, at once familiar and alien.
Once things go south for the crew of the Covenant is when Alien: Covenant kicks into another gear and the details of what happen are most certainly spoilers, so I’ll do my best to give a sense of what happens without divulging any details. Ridley Scott brings forth a number of new creatures that are ghastly and terrifying, and the havoc they wreak brings forth ample amounts of shocking and grotesque gore. There’s one particular moment that invokes the memory of the original chestburster scene and ramps it up to a whole new level of ghastly horror.
Just when you think that Alien: Covenant is ramping up its horror and tension, the screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper (from a story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green) slows things down once again in order to provide answers as to the nature of what’s happening. This is where Alien: Covenant ties into Prometheus and simultaneously works as a critique of where the previous film fell short with its ample aspects unresolved and yet the answers provided make the divisive Prometheus better in retrospect. Of course what happens and how it’s explained may wind up being divisive for fans but certainly not as a divisive as the last time around. All of which leads to an action-packed finale that concludes with one hell of an ending that leaves the door open for many more terrifying adventures in the dark recesses of space.
I’ve always loved the Alien films – yes, including Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection (though the AvP movies are an abomination) – and Alien: Covenant is a worthy entry in the ongoing saga of the horrifying Xenomorphs. The film builds upon the series mythology and has little nods to the past without leaning entirely on nostalgia and yet retains a sense that is unlike the other entries in the series. Ridley Scott isn’t the same filmmaker that made Alien in 1979 but he has taken the lessons learned from Prometheus and applied them into a thrilling, weird, and shocking sequel that is consistently captivating and delivers those moments of unrelenting terror that we’ve come to expect from the series. Alien: Covenant may not stand among the highest points of the series but it definitely doesn’t disappoint.