Whenever a new movie in the Alien franchise is released, I always have the same hope: that it’ll come close to my favorite in the series, the 1986 sequel Aliens by James Cameron. When Alien: Covenant was announced, that hope came back – and although it’s not nearly as good as Aliens (or the original Alien), I ended up being pleasantly surprised.
A large part of that is the fact that Covenant is actually a sequel to 2012’s Prometheus, quite possibly my least favorite movie in the series so far – and yes, that includes Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection. The origin (of life) story in Prometheus, no matter how interesting it was, didn’t allow for enough “Alien” in the story and action – and thus ended up disappointing a lot of fans despite of the merits it deserves on its own, especially in terms of the technical delivery.
Alien: Covenant fixes that by not just putting “Alien” back in the title, but by also capitalizing on the fear that Ridley Scott’s original monsters still evoke. It’s still a bridge movie (taking place after Prometheus but before the original Alien), but it also acts as a stylistic bridge between Prometheus and the rest of the franchise – for the better, as far as I’m concerned.
Covenant starts out with a flashback in which we see Prometheus’ David (played by Michael Fassbender) and delve a little more into his psyche – which plays into the plotline of Covenant as we fast forward in time to the events that take place 14 years after Prometheus. The crew of the Covenant, amongst whom is a later model of the android David who is also played by Fassbender, ends up being awoken while on their seven year journey to a new colony due to a catastrophy on board that was caused by the flares from an exploding star.
After they wake and assess the damage and losses, they intercept and unscramble a strange signal, leading them to change course for a different destination – the planet where the events of Prometheus unfolded. It is here that they ultimately end up connecting with David, but they also stumble upon an evolved and dormant version of the alien lifeform that ends up infecting some of the crew. Within minutes, the infected die a violent death and out comes a small version of the classic alien creature which makes up for its lack in size with incredible speed and strength.
What ensues is a dramatic life or death battle that sees our crew on the run and taking refuge inside a seemingly “safe” base of operations from which David has been working for years. This is where Ridley Scott starts to attempt to balance the action, terror and suspense of the original movies with Prometheus’ more philosophical approach, as the movies becomes not just about these terrifying creatures but also very much about David’s drive to become a creator instead of something created, and his dislike of humans.
Despite Fassbender’s excellent acting, some of the slower scenes in the movie feel a little too drawn out and slow-paced when you consider the immense time pressure the crew (and audience) should be feeling at that point. It’s there to provide contrast and perspective, but for someone like me who prefers the pacing and atmosphere of Aliens it’s a stark contrast.
Nevertheless, Alien: Covenant definitely provides the thrills that made the series so famous, and the return of the titular monster only bodes well for the upcoming sequels (Scott has promised two more that will predate Alien). Let’s hope that those movies will move us even further back towards the claustrophobia, xenomorph vs human struggle and nail-biting suspense that Prometheus was sorely missing and Covenant only partly brings back. If anything Alien: Covenant proves that there is life in this series yet.