Ridley Scott’s latest foray into the universe belonging to Synthetic Beings and Xenomorphs is an intense and compelling horror ride. If you were not a big fan of Alien: Covenant’s predecessor, Prometheus, there is plenty to praise now, but you might want to brace yourself before going in. Alien: Covenant provides the right amount of story, gore, and jump-out-of-your-seat scares. Even though clearly made for the fans of both timelines, newcomers will enjoy the ride. I would recommend to those new to the series to first go back and watch all that came before (Feel free to skip the AVP incarnations).
Alien: Covenant begins with extra insight into the duplicitous synthetic being, David (Michael Fassbender). We glance again his relationship to Weyland (Guy Pearce) in the early days long before the Prometheus exploration. The film jumps ahead to ten years after the doomed mission. A new synthetic named Walter (also played by Fassbender), is paroling the colonist ship named Covenant. Aboard this spacecraft are colonists heading to a remote planet where they hope to further human life in deep space. A freak storm occurs leading to loss of life and the need for repairs. While fixing the ship, a signal reaches them indicating a habitable planet much closer than the original destination. Despite protests from crew member Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the newly-instated Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) decides that the Covenant will head to this new planet. What they find is not at all what they expect.
The film sustains ebbs and flows in telling the story. There are moments of stillness for the audience to catch their breath and appreciate the magnificent scenery displayed. Out in space or on the ground, the visuals are stunning. Just as awe settles in, Scott’s direction whips the audience back to attention. Nearby audience members continually jumped back into seats or covered their mouths anytime an alien burst out of a human and scurried away. Others shouted at the screen or had fits of nervous laughter after intense sequences.
The alien creatures in this movie are effective in their look. Alien: Covenant is still thirty years away from the original film. They are not there yet but the aliens are closer to what is ultimately produced in Alien. One of the major directives of the prequel series is to explore from where the beast originally came. This film reveals the creator of the versions we see in the 1979 film and on. In justifying the continuation of the Alien series, explaining this origin is necessary.
The mystery of evil is what makes many horror films effective. In the original set of Alien films, not knowing from where the creatures came is what helped to make them so terrifying. However, it has been forty years since Alien. Each subsequent film gave insight into the nature of the beast without revealing their origin. That story has been told. The later movies had faults, but the Alien series is now classic horror. The alien’s mystery has been used and contained within those first four films. To hang onto that element of the unknown would only be ripping off the same story again.
Prometheus and Alien: Covenant aim to be more than just another set of updated remakes or mindless sequels to classic films. Instead, they are utilizing an origin story to expand the universe. In doing so, these new flicks are showing just how smart and compelling the horror genre can be. At the same time, Alien: Covenant’s revelation of the creator shows just what effects the horror of human nature can have. Horror is not just a jump scare.
Scott has acknowledged that Alien: Covenant will be the second of several films to come. This is important for a person like me that wishes he had his own case of cliffhanger-repellent. Immediate questions left behind in Prometheus are answered. At the same time, several more are raised. I dislike the cheap gimmick of a cliffhanger to entice audiences back to a film or show. If a project is truly compelling then that will be enough to bring the audience back. The exception being if within the context of the cliffhanger a complete story has unfolded. In the case of Alien: Covenant, this chapter of the prequel series has told a complete story. The “cliffhanger” ending is a possible and exciting clue being revealed as a link to the original film.
One immediate question semi-answered regarding Prometheus is that of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace). This is one of the few disappointing elements I found in Alien: Covenant. A lack in clarification as to what has happened to her one way or the other. I highly suggest watching the prologue video titled The Crossing before going to see the movie. The prologue video answers some questions. The movie answers a little more. Yet, these small answers in no way satiate my need to know her exact fate.
The performances in Alien: Covenant are effective. Katherine Waterston and Danny McBride as Tennessee do a fine job leading the human cast. The rapport between the performers is evident and translates to humorous moments of connection for the audience. However, the film is anchored in by the presence of Michael Fassbender in the dual roles of David and Walter.
A major theme within the prequel series is the idea of creation. Particularly, whether the creator is better than the creation. Linking the prequels to the original series (besides the aliens, themselves) are the notions surrounding synthetic beings and the relationships they have with humans. Fassbender is exquisite to watch as he plays two androids similar only in their appearance. Walter seems less human due to his inability of choice. However, he appears more humane. David has obtained more human qualities since Prometheus and this could be his moral downfall. Fassbender’s impressive performance is one of the main reasons to enjoy the prequel series. Even if his American accent is stereotyped at times.
The prequel series is set up like an incomplete puzzle board. Each film is a different piece fitting in until eventually revealing how to get to the 1979 film. Alien: Covenant is the next piece but the story is not complete. The fate of the series will be relying heavily on the next film. If done well, this franchise will have expanded and created a fascinating mythology.
Alien: Covenant is one of those movies that will demand multiple viewings. I was a fan of the polarizing Prometheus. It helped going in knowing that Ridley Scott was staying in the universe of Alien but leading us away from the original film. I expected less evidence of the original film and was delighted with the snippets that were there. Every time I watch, it brings about a sense of wonder. Alien: Covenant successfully maintains that sense of wonder while at the same time delivers more on the terror from the original series. This flick is not the strongest of the entire series and that is by intended design. Nevertheless, it takes a firm hold on its deserved place in not only the prequel series, but the entire Alien franchise.
For a second opinion, read Joey Keogh’s less enthusiastic take on Covenant right here.
Wicked Rating: 7/10
Director(s): Ridley Scott
Writer(s): John Logan, Dante Harper, Jack Paglen, Michael Green
Stars: Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Callie Hernandez
Release: May 19, 2017 (US), May 12, 2017 (UK)
Studio/ Production Co: Scott Free
Length: 122 minutes