I know I’m a little bit late in the game to be reviewing Alien: Covenant, but I have a pretty good reason for that. Or, at least I think so. The early trailers seemed to show that Covenant was going to have a good blend of horror and sci-fi mystery. Even better, it looked like Ridley Scott had learned a lesson from the beating that Prometheus had taken (which wasn’t that terrible), and set out to make a more “traditional” prequel to his amazing original, Alien. But lately I’ve found myself being burned far too often by great advertising for ultimately poor products. It’s my fault for falling for their devious trickery, I guess. Still, I didn’t want to get fooled again. So, I waited.
Now, was this wait worth it? Yes, and no.
Set ten years after the ill-fated flight of the Prometheus, Alien: Covenant follows the crew of the Covenant (who names these things?) a colony ship bound for a distant habitable world. When the ship has an unforeseeable accident, the crew is awoken to hopefully fix the damage and get back on track. As they do, they end up stumbling upon a strange alien broadcast. It turns out that the signal they received is, well, someone singing a John Denver song. Somehow, there is a human presence in a sector of space where no human has ever been. Intrigued by this, the crew decide to take a detour to the signal’s origin, discovering a perfectly habitable world far closer than the world they were originally travelling to. However, this peaceful world they have uncovered has a sinister secret, and the long lost android David, has something to do with it.
In a way, Alien: Covenant is the prequel that we wanted the first time around. The proto-alien Neomorph is a nasty little creature, and watching it erupt from its victims gives us some unique – and very gory – demises. The film also gives us an origin for the Xenomorph. Seeing the creature born for the first time is a welcomed sight, especially considering how much the previous film teased its existence. The main cast has a much stronger group of characters this time around as well. The cast features Katherine Waterston (our Ripley surrogate), Billy Crudup (as their new captain, unsure that the crew will follow him due to his faith), Danny McBride (the ship’s pilot), and Michael Fassbender (playing dual roles, including a rebuilt David from the previous film). Because the colony ship is filled with couples (aside from Fassbender’s android, Walter, that is) the actors are given an opportunity to feel more for each other when faced with the inevitable losses that occur. Unlike previous Alien films, they are more than a crew: they’re family.
Still, as important as family is, this doesn’t excuse our heroes from acting as painfully dumb as they do. One would think that they would know that setting down on an alien world, and exploring it without any protection is a monumentally bad idea. Who knows what terrible diseases (or say, harmful alien parasites?) could lurk on that planet. Heck, even the world that they “vetted” could have had something dangerous in the air or water. Weren’t they going to take precautions to ensure that their new home–world was truly safe? And even if they could test the world for dangerous microbes from orbit (which didn’t seem to be the case), their safety protocols when someone is infected with something obviously life-threatening is lackluster at best. But at least they aren’t as incompetent as the scientists (and, I use that term loosely) from Prometheus.
Like the film before it, Covenant also ends up further complicating the franchise’s continuity. And I know it’s silly to get worked up about that, but these are prequels, and should be working to an obvious endpoint. Yet we are still no closer to having an Engineer ship filled with Alien eggs crashing on LV-426, and being there for the Nostromo to find. There is only an eighteen year difference between the timeline settings of Covenant and the original film, and considering how these prequels have been playing out, the likelihood of Alien even happening is doubtful. Aside from getting to see the very first Xenomorph, there is very little that even ties this in with the rest of the franchise. This film would have worked better if Prometheus was nothing more than a standalone Alien clone. These two films, filled with their themes of creation and destruction, are entertaining (if a little dumb) sci-fi horror films. Sadly, their tie to the Alien franchise is what ultimately limits an otherwise interesting vision.
Now, despite my complaints, I did like this movie. From the very moment the crew sets down on their potential new home, we feel that there is something very wrong with this world. There is a wonderful sense of dread that hangs over everything on the planet, up until everything goes sideways and the creature show begins. Even when we are given those few precious moments of peace, we never feel safe. This is where Covenant shines. We don’t go into movies like these to feel safe. We want the monster horror, and Alien: Covenant delivers on that promise.