Let me just put this out there: nothing is ever going to top the suspense and cinematography of the original Alien movie back in 1979. In fact, nothing can dethrone the sci-fi masterpiece that was Aliens back in 1986. They were products of their time that arguably aged better than it should.
So when Ridley Scott, the OG director of Alien, took it upon himself to create a proper Alien universe prequel with Prometheus (which had a better behind-the-scenes story than the actual movie’s story), we honestly had no idea what to make of it. He’s not the most consistent of directors when you look at his track record. For all of his contributions such as Blade Runner, Legend, and the recent film The Martian, he has also lost it with Exodus, Hannibal, and Robin Hood. So it’s understandable for one to worry that he’s just going to just apply a new paint job for the sci-fi horror film.
What we ended up with is, well, almost exactly that: a hybrid Alien film that combines the good aspects of Alien and Aliens, but somehow become its own thing as a follow-up to Prometheus. Against all odds, this mash-up is a lot more entertaining and suspenseful than it should be. Except for the chaotic third act, which feels like a tacked-on last-minute tribute to the first film’s climax, but we’ll get to that later.
The story starts off with the colony ship Covenant, enroute to a new planet ripe for colonization with its crew, colonists and embryos in cryostasis. After a mishap awakens the crew, with damage control handled by android Walter (Michael Fassbender), they then intercepted a signal by accident from a nearby planet. The said planet also looks ripe for colonization, and despite some protests, the crew’s on its way to check out the new paradise.
Because it’s an Aliens movie, everything goes south from here in the bloodiest way possible. You’ll get to see every sci-fi geek’s favourite phallic-headed alien (and H.R. Giger’s meal ticket) bursting out in the most expected yet still gruesome of ways; there is a lot of that to satisfy your most gory desires. Along the way, Prometheus’ David, again portrayed by Michael Fassbender as an android with an eerily quiet menace, aids the Covenant crew who are stranded from an explosive mishap and unaware of his intentions.
Ridley Scott proves that he can reel you into this seemingly hopeful future landscape and then unleashes the horror that follows in a methodical slow-building way, albeit not excruciatingly so like in the first Alien film (but hey, product of its time, right?). From the outer space vistas and tracking Covenant ship shots, to the strange yet eerily familiar planet the colonists set foot on, the shots and views go from tranquil to tense without being jarring shifts.
Alien: Covenant also does a good job at tying up some loose ends from Prometheus and also fills in some gaps in the Alien universe lore. All those chest-burstings and Facehugger eggs from Alien and Aliens, as well as why the Xenomorphs look the way they do? This movie portrays their evolution and eventual birth, but also keeps things vague for better or worse.
Granted, we would have a serviceable movie if the Xenomorph fodder from the Covenant were just horror movie tropes attached to famous actors, but Scott and the writers did their best in fleshing them out amidst the tension-building and chaotic last act. The real stars, apart from the ever-evolving and fast-growing Xenomorphs, are David/Walter, female badass Daniels (Katherine Waterston), and pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride).
David is arguably creepier and more menacing than the title monsters, what with his curious good-natured behavior breaking down to reveal his god complex. Walter acts as the helpful android who tries to get close to Daniels while also pondering on whether to break out of his programming like David did.
Ladies, if you want to fall out of love with Fassbender, just check out the scenes where David shows affection and bonds with Walter in what could be described as an actor unintentionally displaying narcissism on-screen, going as far as David kissing Walter at one point.
Waterston’s gradual transformation from a grieving widow with survivor’s guilt to a gruff tough captain would make Sigourney Weaver proud. Danny McBride chucks in a few jokes or two but manages to break the comedy goofball typecasting with some serious moments as a pilot who gets things done. Billy Crudup’s captain role does deserve mention here, as a person who tries to earn admiration from his crew, even if it means making decisions against his better judgment.
While its acting, direction, and production values are decent, it’s disheartening that Alien: Covenant does not have its standout moment like Prometheus’ surgery scene or Aliens’ mass xenomorph infiltration bit. It tries to go back to the first film’s roots with its climax, but that part feels more jumbled up and rushed, as if Scott and his team did not know how to set it up in an epic way.
Still, if you take all of the gory scenes, tense buildup, and action bits as a whole, you won’t be disappointed. Just don’t expect a breakthrough horror classic like the first two films.