There’s a reason ALIEN: COVENANT re-adopts the parent franchise title. PROMETHEUS seemed stuck in an identity crisis, whereas Covenant is proudly a proper Alien movie. You’ll get everything you expect and then some from Ridley Scott’s real return to marshaling the Xenomorphs, but a fair few twists and surprises along the way as well.
A human colony ship on route to a new home diverts its course when it receives a strange signal from a nearby planet. Already bloodied by a freak accident, the crew of the Covenant desperately make their way through the strange and murky jungle hoping for a sign to give them hope. What Daniels (Katherine Waterston), android Walter (Michael Fassbender) and the rest find is something deadly has been waiting for them…
Most of what happened in Prometheus is left by the wayside after this film’s opening prologue, and that’s fine because Prometheus didn’t really go anywhere. Everything you need to understand in the upcoming story is laid out in this clean, stylish and thoughtful scene between David and his creator Peter Wayland (Guy Pearce). “You created me, but who created you?” is the only question we need to carry over from Prometheus.
The film is all about the evil of emotion, the cruelness of creativity. It’s pretty bleak and hopeless stuff, exploring how we brought it all on themselves. We may have made great advances as a species, made great leaps forward because of our creativity (Scott loves to reference current innovations, for instance here humanity’s exodus to the stars is assisted by solar sails) but our free will has birthed many horrors as well. After all, every war and every genocide in our history began with someone with an idea convinced they were right, and Covenant uses this to great effect to drive the plot.
It’s Fassbender’s playground, giving twin androids David and Walter a very different physicality, personality and views on life, the universe and everything. Walter is hulking, methodical and sounds a bit like Kryten, David moves like a dancer; skipping and gesturing flamboyantly, his actions all driven by a need to find out what if? Whereas David’s final act switch of allegiance in Prometheus was baffling, his further actions here have a warped logic to them, and heighten the dark thematic undercurrents of the film at large. Waterston as Daniels isn’t a superwoman but is a problem-solver, getting out of many a tight spot using her wit and guile. I also enjoyed seeing an unusually downplayed and semi-serious Danny McBride, his character growth as helmsman Tennessee being perhaps the most unexpectedly compelling in the film.
Covenant does, as demanded by the genre, rely on people being stupid, but unlike Prometheus, which had some of the best minds, the top people in their respective fields, making the worst decisions possible, here it’s just a group of ordinary guys and gals. They are couples recruited to maintain the colony ship, get it where needs to go before beginning a new life among the stars. Being ordinary people, they quite often make the situation worse when they react badly to everything going to hell. They are wracked with grief by a fatal accident early on, and the crew clearly feels every single loss they suffer to their core, some of which are not noble or glorious, but messy, accidental and cowardly. Alien has always done death scenes well, and Covenant delivers them in a wave of satisfying splats.
The plot isn’t in any way surprising, the only unusual element being one of the twists not being used as such from the audience’s perspective, but rather as an act of how long our heroes can miss seeing what is really going on. With the story and visuals hitting such familiar (if well executed) beats, it is the subtext, the thematic richness that must bear the weight of the story, and here Covenant excels. It’s vintage Ridley Scott on his best angry and conceptual form, with added glossy gore and very stupid people dying spectacularly stupidly. Alien: Covenant may be downbeat, even hopeless in its outlook, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun as well and sets the franchise back on firm ground. SSP