Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
After 5 years, the sequel to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus has arrived in the form of Alien: Covenant. This new film acts as a continuation of the new trilogy within the Alien universe that Scott started with Prometheus, but also seeks to draw the new trilogy a lot closer to its Alien roots than Prometheus did. What results in a fantastically horrifying film that combines some of the heavier philosophical elements of Prometheus with the raw, unfiltered horror that Alien gave to audiences in 1979. Alien: Covenant succeeded in almost all aspects, and works hard to reintroduce some of the horror elements that have been lost in the franchise since the original Alien film.
It’s hard to view this film without thinking about what it could have been or almost was. I was a huge fan of Prometheus and the new direction Scott was taking the franchise sans-alien. I was perturbed when I discovered that he was reversing his course and including the alien (known as the Xenomorph) in this film and changing the direction he had originally laid out for this new trilogy in the Alien franchise. It was especially disheartening when he changed the title of the film from Paradise Lost to Alien: Covenant in order to communicate that this was in fact a prequel to Alien. I ended up going into the film with different expectations because of my disappointment with the change in story. Still, the film managed to meet and exceed my expectations in several ways, and I am happy that Alien: Covenant continues the excellence in science fiction that Ridley Scott does so much better than many other directors.
Alien: Covenant focuses on the crew of a ship called the Covenant. It’s a colony ship headed to a new planet, Origae-6, with hopes of starting a new human colony further out in space. When the ship is badly damaged because of a solar flare, the crew is awakened from their cryo-sleep early. During the repairs they discover a distress signal from a nearby planet that sounds better suited for life than the planet the ship was headed to. The crew decides to divert their path to this new planet to check whether or not it would be suitable for the 2000 colonists aboard the ship. The planet appears to be everything the crew could hope for. It looks similar to earth, and there is already earthly vegetation on the planet. During their exploration of the planet the crew comes across the ship that the android David (Michael Fassbender) and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) flew off in at the end of Prometheus. This discovery puts them in direct contact with the stranded David, and it also exposes several of the crew to a deadly virus.
In some ways Alien: Covenant is tiresomely similar to preview films in the Alien franchise. There’s a crew of people. There’s a ship with a distress signal. There’s an alien. The alien gets on the ship. There are little to no survivors. It’s a formula that has been used in a majority of the films in the franchise at this point, and after successfully tweaking that for Prometheus it’s a shame to see Scott come back to such a similar formula. There is a long stretch in the middle that feels more akin to Prometheus than it does to Alien and that might have been one of the best parts of the film. It’s after the Covenant crew meets up with David and he takes them back to where he is living. There are lots of quiet moments between David and some of the crew members, including Walter (also Michael Fassbender) an updated version of David. David and Walter especially discuss the idea of creation and being subservient to a creator. Where Prometheus focused on religion and the existence of God in a universe where humans are created by an alien race, Alien: Covenant looks deeper at the act of creation and what it means to be a creator of life. Ultimately, Alien: Covenant is a film that feels at odds with itself because of the stark contrast between the philosophical scenes and the violent, horror scenes.
Somehow the return to horror reinvigorated the franchise. There were plenty of elements and scene that felt reminiscent of Alien without lazily recreating the circumstances to invoke nostalgia. At this point a majority of filmgoers will be aware of what makes the Xenomorph such a terrifying creature, which would normally mean Ridley Scott would need to find some creative way to make the Xenomorph scary again. With over 20 years since the last film in the franchise, Ridley Scott knew that a return to convention would bring the largest amounts of terror to the audience. Even though I knew what was coming, I was still unprepared for the amount of times I actually jumped during the film.
As usual, Michael Fassbender overshadows the entire cast with his duel role as David and Walter. I was impressed by how seamlessly he transitioned between the two accents used by the different androids. He even manages to separate the mannerism of bother androids to create two unique but eerily similar characters. Danny McBride as Tennessee was a surprising role for the actor, leaning more on drama than his usual comedic antics, I was thoroughly pleased with his character that even carried an emotional depth I have not seen from McBride before. I would be completely supportive if he pursued more serious roles in the future. Katherine Waterson fills the role of the female protagonist just like Noomi Rapace and Signourney Weaver before her. Waterson plays a levelheaded second in command, but plays more of an elaborate background character except for the beginning and end of the film. She was enjoyable, like the rest of the cast, but I couldn’t help but wonder if we could have gotten more.
Alien: Covenant might be just as divisive as Prometheus but it is an undeniable return to formula for the Ridley Scott franchise. It’s Terrifying. It’s deep. It’s an excellent sci-fi film, even if it lacks the same amazing depth as Arrival. It has been my favorite summer blockbuster so far, and I cannot wait until Scott continues the franchise. It might not be the film we were promised five years ago, but it makes up for it with creative story-telling and an engaging story that both answers questions but also raises more questions that can be answered in the next installment.