The Alien franchise is a tumultuous one. While Alien and Aliens are considered classics, Alien3 and Alien Resurrection are not as positively remembered. And then we have Prometheus, which wasn’t even marketed as part of the franchise but was a sneaky prequel, which brought up more questions than it provided answers. So now we have Alien: Covenant, which is a prequel to Alien but a sequel to Prometheus, which is required viewing for this outing.
We pick up about ten years after the events of Prometheus, where a ship called the Covenant is hurtling through space full of 2,000 colonists, aimed for a habitable planet. The android Walter (Michael Fassbender) wakes up the crew as the ship is hit with an explosive wave, jeopardizing their mission. We have a hesitant captain (Billy Crudup), whose second in command (Katherine Waterston) questions his decisions, most notably the decision to explore a new planet that might be habitable. This new planet is of course horrible, introducing us to the deadly aliens that this franchise is known for.
We also have Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, and more among the expendable cast. It is directed by Ridley Scott.
This movie smartly veers closer to Alien than Prometheus did, which didn’t really even feel like a prequel to me. This is much closer in tone to the originals, echoing many similar moments of suspense. The xenomorph alien that you know is present here, though we also get other variations of the alien. The movie is exciting and action-packed, though also incredibly gory, which should please the diehard fans. It pulls no punches.
The standout in the cast is Michael Fassbender, who plays the new android Walter, as well as reprising his role as David from Prometheus. His performance here is great, nuanced and complicated, though this character is also the root of this movie’s story problems, so it’s a double-edged sword. Danny McBride also delivers a surprisingly poignant performance as well.
Lastly, the movie is gorgeous. The sets are fantastic, the landscapes surreal, and the cinematography is incredible. If nothing else, this is a stunning movie to look at.
What doesn’t work?
This franchise has dug itself a hole in terms of its mythology and Ridley Scott seems driven to dive further into it. I’ve seen every movie and this film was still convoluted and complicated, for seemingly no reason. In the first few films, the premise seemed simple enough. There’s a Queen who lays eggs and these eggs result in face-huggers, who latch onto a human and create a xenomorph. With Prometheus and now Covenant, this isn’t so simple anymore. You almost need a diagram to figure out why certain things are happening, it’s frustratingly complicated. This also means that not only do you need to see Prometheus first but you probably should rewatch it immediately before this movie.
The human characters in the movie are incredibly superficial. Most of them never get a name, which means you know they’re all going to die in horrible painful ways. The xenomorph, when it does arrive, has some killer moments but the reliance on computer effects is frustrating, considering how fantastic the practical effects looked in the older movies.
The biggest problem that I had with this movie… is that it all felt familiar, yet it’s been done better. The climax of the film mostly resembles the original Alien film, but it doesn’t even come close. There are sequences that resemble many moments we’ve already had, yet they all feel like carbon copies. This movie’s only uniqueness lies in David and Walter and the bigger questions about life and creation and the fate of humankind, but this storyline is woven into this complicated mythology Scott is trying to build, so it’s still frustrating.
This movie is really only for a small group of people: If you loved all the Alien movies and thought Prometheus was a step in the right direction. It’s beautiful to watch and Fassbender’s performance is fantastic, but the movie ultimately gets tripped up on its own mythology. It all feels familiar, there’s very little new or unique about this film. If you don’t mind the confusion but just want some gory kills, this movie might do the trick for you.