Starring Michael Fassbender and Katherine Waterson. Rated R.
At a time when remaking classic films is taking precedent over green-lighting new scripts, Ridley Scott’s decision to further the plot of Alien is a bold choice.
The franchise has a lengthy history. After Scott hit the big time directing the first movie in 1979, Avatar’s James Cameron, Fight Club’s David Fincher, and (most bizarrely) Amélie’s Jean-Pierre Jeunet all took a crack at continuing the story. Returning to the project in 2012 for a prequel named Prometheus—a smart move after Jeunet butchered Alien: Resurrection—Scott revived interest in the collection with a tale that placed more emphasis on the philosophy of existence than gut-wrenching Xenomorph massacres.
By his own admission, though, Scott got Prometheus wrong—and we’re not talking about the dubious character motivations, or the fact that none of the crew seem to know why they’re on the mission in the first place. Unpopular at the time, the director made the bold decision not to include any of the series’ terrifying aliens—which, in a prequel for a franchise named Alien, we agree might have been an oversight.
Thankfully, Alien: Covenant more than makes up for that omission. Bridging the gap between Prometheus and the original Alien movie, Covenant marries its prequel’s ontological questions with visceral gore and gripping tension. Remember that horrific scene in the 1979 film where the creature first bursts from the chest of John Hurt’s Gilbert Kane? Or the disturbingly tense on-board chase between Ripley and the towering Xenomorph? Yeah—that’s nothing.
For all of its edge-of-your-seat dread, though, the movie’s forays into philosophy sometimes come off as a little heavy-handed. Creation is the topic of choice for Scott, and Covenant, like its predecessor, attempts to identify the architects of humans and extraterrestrials. Technology and religion are often juxtaposed in jarring ways—viewers need look no further than the ham-fisted opening scene, a flashback of the initial awakening of Michael Fassbender’s enigmatic robot David, whose first action is to play Wagner’s “Entry of the Gods into Valhalla”—which deflects attention from the movie’s much more complex rewriting of the Biblical creation myth as the plot unfurls.
Despite its flaws, though, Covenant is constantly engaging. Strong lead Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) channels the best elements of Sigourney Weaver’s action-hero performance of the original film—the physical similarity between the two is hardly an accident—and the genius casting of pilot Danny McBride, Eastbound & Down’s Kenny Powers, adds a welcome levity to the film’s relentlessly rising body count.
Sure, we also find it a little hard to believe that every character’s choices are driven by the impending peril of their spouse—who, somewhat implausibly, is also a member of the crew. And yes, there is one particularly distracting scene where Michael Fassbender suggests that his robotic counterpart “blow” while he “fingers”. But Covenant ultimately does a great job at resurrecting the best parts of its predecessors, while answering much of the speculation around how Prometheus connects to Alien.