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Thirty eight years ago, Ridley Scott redefined sci-fi horror with Alien, a claustrophobic, unrelenting, and downright terrifying film which introduced Ellen Ripley and the infamous Xenomorph to audiences. The film’s legacy is one that has been ingrained in pop culture, spawning numerous sequels, comic books, novels, and video games, all of which Scott didn’t have a hand in. That is until 2012, when the famed director returned to the series he had birthed in 1979, with Prometheus, a prequel that aimed to explore the origins of the original film. The film was met with a mixed reaction, and left many scratching their heads about the film’s significance to the Alien mythology. Now Scott has returned for his third film in the Alien series with Alien: Covenant, a film he hopes will help bridge the gap between Prometheus and Alien even further, and answer a lot of lingering questions he set out to answer in Prometheus.
Picking up ten years after the events of Prometheus, Alien Covenant finds the space ship Covenant on a mission to colonize a new planet that they’ve found in the outer reaches of space. But when a random solar event wrecks havoc on the ship, awakening the crew too early from their mission, it sets off an unfortunate chain of events that puts their entire mission in danger. As the crew tries to gain their bearings on the situation and get the ship back to working order, they receive an ongoing signal from a nearby planet that is eerily similar to Earth. Broken and searching for answers, the colonization crew decides to investigate the origin of the signal, and explore the planet. What starts as a mission of intrigue and hope will quickly become one of regret and despair, where the team will quickly learn that in space, no one can hear you scream.
From the outset, the question many want to know is this: Is Alien: Covenant a true Alien film, or is more of a sequel to Prometheus? The truth is, it’s both. Ridley Scott’s third film is a true Alien film in every sense, but it also truly feels like a continuation of the mythology and world building of Prometheus, crafting a rather unique film within the series. Much of the film is a throwback to the sci-fi horror of the original, but it must also maintain the lofty ideals of the last film to answer many of the burning questions that were left over from the last outing. In a way, it feels like there’s almost two films at play, which many times will make a film feel at war with itself, but here it actually works. This is a thoughtful film in many ways about life, creation, and what it means to be human, while also being a visceral, intense, and often times grotesque horror film. The fact that it manages to do all these things, while also being an incredibly entertaining film, is really a testament to Ridley’s incredible talent behind the camera. It’s clear that he has a much more defined vision for this film, and the series as a whole now, in a way he didn’t with Prometheus.
The one thing that Scott was very smart to do though this time, was making sure he brought Michael Fassbender back as the android David, who we were introduced to in Prometheus. But Fassbender isn’t just David, as he also plays the Covenant crew’s android, Walter, who is an upgrade from the original David model. Fassbender manages to give two excellent performances in the film, both of which are very different. While David is still a menacing android with clear delusions of grandeur, Walter, even though he’s programmed to be more robotic, almost seems more human. The two characters are so different and unique, which makes it really fascinating watching Fassbender really sink his teeth into the two roles the way he does. He is really the heart and soul of Alien: Covenant, which is really ironic considering his characters are both androids that completely lack souls. Their dilemma on what it means to be human, and what it means to be loved, is really the focal point of the film, along with what it means to truly live. Walter finds himself totally content with helping his colonization team and being their helper, never bucking the status quo of why he was created. On the other hand, David continues to want to play God, becoming the creator of creatures and worlds, a truly unsettling thought when you remember the terror he caused his Prometheus crew in the last film.
Much of this stems from the fact that David, having met the creator of the human race, finds them truly unworthy of the power they were given. He sees it as wasted power, as humans are an inherently flawed species that need to destroyed. His fascination with creating the perfect species, considering himself a Zoologist of sorts, is at times both maddening and strangely beautiful. But this is a fantastic way to set up the horror of the film, and having David at the center really is why this film works so well. David is controlled chaos, and his obsession to create the perfect species is really what drives the film back to the roots of Alien. When we’re finally introduced to his creation, the final form of the Xenomorph that audiences love, David’s quest is complete, but for audiences and the crew, the terror and madness has only just begun.
This is why the film feels like two separate films, because once David’s mission from Prometheus is seemingly completely, the film quickly becomes the film it’s titled, Alien: Covenant. We’re transported back to the horrors of being trapped in a place with a creature that knows know mercy, has no conscious, and has no regrets, as it begins tearing through the crew one by one. Scott finds himself comfortably back in his horror roots, and he really pushes the film to be terrifying, as well as grotesque, in new ways. It’s a truly chilling and fun experience throughout, featuring some great scenes that will truly be ranked amongst the franchise’s best. Katherine Waterston, who plays the film’s lead, Daniels, is fantastic throughout, as the audience’s eyes and ears to this madness. She is a great addition to the Alien franchise’s kick-ass female heroines, something to be very happy that the series has not moved away from. Daniels has shades of Ripley, but she’s uniquely her own character, and it’s great to see her really standing out amongst the rest as the voice of reason in the film. This is a star making turn for Waterston, who many will recognize from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
The one biggest drawback to the film though, is the third act is fairly predictable. For much of the film, it actually keeps the audience fairly disoriented enough with the twists and turns, so it’s hard to pin down just where it’s going to go. But once the Xenomorph begins its hunt for the humans, the film quickly loses that spark, and it becomes a much more straightforward slasher film. There’s also a moment that is so heavily telegraphed ahead that it’s almost surprising that Ridley honestly goes the direction he does with it. In the scheme of the story, it makes sense why Ridley makes the decision, but it’s hard not to be a little frustrated that the twist, or lack thereof, doesn’t really stick. It’s the obvious choice for the film, and while it’s still a fine reveal, it’s just not shocking at all.
Alien: Covenant is a great return to the roots of the Alien franchise, while also being a proper continuation to Prometheus. Ridley Scott returns with a vengeance, really crafting a film that is both unique and familiar, while crafting something genuinely scary and thoughtful all at once. Anchored by terrific performances by both Michael Fassbender and Katherine Waterston, Alien: Covenant dares to be a dark, thoughtful, scary summer tentpole, and finds the series really returning to what made it so great. Alien is back in a big way, with its best installment since James Cameron’s Aliens. In space, no one can hear you scream, but they will in the theater this summer.