Fox has had a strong sense of confidence with Alien: Covenant that made it hard not to at least get a little bit excited for the film, even after the giant misstep that was Prometheus. I watched every trailer, each of the two prequels and read up on what I needed to know for the film and despite all that I tempered my expectations. I’m relieved to say that, while not without its flaws, Alien: Covenant is nothing short of the film we wanted, and I’m even more excited for the series’ future after watching it.
The film picks up a decade after the ship Prometheus mysteriously disappears with all of its crew. The ship the film is named after, Covenant, is on its way with a small crew of its own and a massive cargo of colonists and human embryos to a planet that may or may not be humanity’s new home. They’re well into their voyage when they pick up a rogue human transmission from another life sustaining planet they hadn’t known of previously, and things kick off from there.
Right out of the gate, the film is visually stunning. Ridley Scott’s mastery of color grading and framing is presented at full force from start to finish. Much like the original Alien film, the future Scott imagines is advanced but also refined in a way that makes it feel more than plausible, and even at points possible. Despite the advanced tech required to move people across galaxies, a lot of it still requires human (or synthetic) maintenance and from the very beginning, you’re left completely aware that anything could go wrong at any moment.
The Covenant’s crew is rounded out with some great talent including Michael Fassbender’s Walter, Katherine Waterson’s Daniels and Billy Crudup’s eerily fanatical Christoper Oram. The real star of the show though is Danny McBride as the ship’s pilot and maintenance leader, Tennessee. At first, he plays his usual loveably dumb and kind of annoying role, but Scott smartly writes Tennessee in a way that totally subverts what you’d expect for him, and McBride handles it flawlessly. Waterson brings a surprising mix of leadership, strength, and humanity to her role as the film’s protagonist that I honestly wasn’t expecting. She’s smart and resourceful when she has to be, but she isn’t ever reckless, and the decisions she makes thought the film (except for one towards the end that totally goes against her character) are entirely sensible.
As for the horror aspects, there’s almost more than enough tension and gore here to satisfy fans of the franchise who felt let down by Scott’s previous entry. Both the Xenomorphs and Neomorphs in the film are downright disturbing, and the CGI is minimal in relation to both. The practical effects are downright disgusting, and watching people get torn apart is just as juicy as we all hoped it would be.
As far as whether or not the crew’s enemies lean more towards Alien or Aliens goes, I’d say it’s a healthy mix that will satisfy fans of both films. There’s a clear difference in intelligence and ferociousness between the Xenomorphs and Neomorphs that I was happy to see. Michael Fassbender also brings some much-appreciated humor into the film that breaks up the tension at just the right moments.
Covenant‘s only true misstep is due to the fact that Scott is far too resistant to leave the more fantastic elements introduced in Prometheus in the past. David has an obsession with the meanings of classical music and humanity, and frankly, that stuff is so cringe-worthy to me that I think the film could have easily done without it and would be noticeably better for it. It’s an added layer that, at this point in the franchise’s greater story, serves no purpose and I think it’ll be tough to keep including it in meaningful ways going forward.
If the only question you want to be answered by this review is whether or not Alien: Covenant is better than Prometheus, then that answer is a resounding “Yes.” If you were hoping that it would totally leave the ideas introduced in Prometheus behind, you might be a little disappointed with certain parts, but as a whole, I think you’ll probably enjoy it. The story is self-contained for the most part, but it does open up some plot threads for a sequel. With that said, Covenant is the shot in the arm that the franchise’s future needed it to be.