For such a beloved franchise, the Alien movies (and its spinoffs) doesn’t have the best rate of critical success. So even with heralded director Ridley Scott again at the reigns there’s a natural sense of trepidation for people who love one of cinema’s scariest creatures. The latest movie, Alien: Covenant, attempts to return to the glory days of Alien and Aliens while still making sense alongside the rather different Prometheus. There’s a lot that could go wrong here, but how does the latest Xenomorph release stack up?
The story of Alien: Covenant takes place several years after the events of Prometheus, following the crew of a colony ship on its way towards a planet to call their own. After the ship suffers some damage and the crew are awoken from cryo-sleep early, they receive a strange transmission from a nearby habitable planet that somehow slipped their previous searches. Once they arrive though, things go horribly wrong, and the crew have to survive as things go from bad to worse. The plot feels like a retracing of Prometheus to a certain extent, but the new colony storyline is an underutilised concept in a lot of science fiction which added a nice spin, adding a lot more lives in the hands of the active protagonists who are trying to just trying to survive.
Prometheus was always a little confused about whether it was a stand-alone movie or an Alien prequel, and in that respect one of Alien: Covenant’s greatest accomplishment is managing to effectively tie in Prometheus with the rest of the franchise without alienating one side or another. For two thirds of the movie it acts as a sequel, both in story and tone, before transitioning in the final act that better resembles Alien. At the same time, you could watch Covenant without having seen any of the movies and be able to follow the story fine. There’s one moment where having seen Prometheus would better serve the experience, but Ridley Scott somehow manages to make this prequel-sequel work on its own merits. That being said, if you are coming into this hoping for more of the traditional Alien feel, you’ll be disappointed with most of this movie.
The crew of the Covenant are all fine, if a bit unmemorable across the board. It’s clear pretty early on that most of the people are expendable, but even the ones who are given a bit more depth probably won’t stick with you long term. Michael Fassbender carries the crux of this movie from a character perspective, returning as a new android called Walter. There’s a lot asked of him in this movie, and he does a great job of making the small things work. Walter’s story arc also carries some philosophical connotations that helps to give Covenant something unique to build around, and it ends up carrying more weight to the film’s narrative than you first expect.
The movie also falls into the typical thriller/horror cliché of characters making some seriously stupid decisions which kind of artificially creates more drama than it needed to. Some of it can be explained by the battle between rationality and emotion, but there are times when you question how some of these people were put in control of the fate of two thousand colonists. On the plus side Covenant nails the tension in this film, and it’s not just restricted to just the moments of waiting for the aliens to spring into action. We also get plenty of lore surrounding the xenomorphs, but at no point does it feel tacked on for the sake of worldbuilding.
As you’d expect from a Ridley Scott movie it looks fantastic. From the wide sweeping shots of the planet they land on to the ship interiors, there’s a lot to like here and it covers a range of aesthetics, giving more personality to the world than you’d typically get. Given that it’s meant to be a habitable world it needs to feel like Earth without being Earth, and this tough assignment is captured rather effectively, even without getting to the inhuman constructs on the planet.
Alien: Covenant succeeds as a franchise movie in ways Prometheus simply wasn’t able to, managing to capture the spirit of the original franchise and build upon it. It serves as a puzzle piece to connect the series while still being a thrilling ride as its own movie. There are some missteps that stop it from reaching the heights of Alien or Aliens, but a strong argument could be made for it being the third best movie in the franchise. On the back of a strong performance by Fassbender, some great atmosphere and visuals from Ridley Scott and a fascinating subplot to give depth to the typical thriller, Alien: Covenant has plenty going for it for both hardcore and casual fans for the series.