“You can’t be a person of faith and be qualified to make rational decisions,” quips Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), speaking to the lack of support he’s getting from his crew. Director Ridley Scott could be talking about his own relationship with the franchise he began in 1979. Following 2012’s Prometheus, an existential musing that tried to have some Alien cake without eating it, Scott’s singular vision arguably created a tension between the old and new. ALIEN: COVENANT goes a long way towards fixing that without betraying an inch of Scott’s deep musings.
In the year 2104, a decade after the Prometheus went missing, the crew of the colony ship Covenant is prematurely awakened alongside android Walter (Michael Fassbender). After a tragic accident, the group decides to investigate a beacon from a nearby habitable world. Encountering a variety of dangerous creatures, along with sole crash survivor David (also Fassbender), the crew begins a battle for survival.
ALIEN: COVENANT is a film of two distinct parts. In the first, John Logan and Dante Harper’s screenplay is unafraid of taking long contemplative spacewalks to establish characters and their world, just as the lived-in feel of the original Alien did almost forty years ago. Similarly, with the reintroduction of David, Scott is to be commended for not sacrificing an inch of his previous attempts to question the meaning of life. This is, after all, a film that overtly references the Last Supper, Ozymandias, and Noah’s Ark to a lesser extent.
Yet this is now wholly fused with Alien motifs, from the first Chestburster to come-at-me-bro dialogue. Scott punctuates his profound essay with some spectacular set-pieces, including a frenzied attack of some proto-xenomorphs in a field, and a truly gripping midair climax that aims to better the original’s airlock. Scott also reminds us that he is a master of close-quartered horror, even if that now borrows from familiar tropes, such as the random sexy shower sequence. It’s here that the film is ironically at its weakest.
The plethora of creatures and literal Easter eggs mark the biggest difference from Scott’s first Alien film. Even so, the focus on character remains core, with a tangible bit of DNA shared between teraforming expert Daniels (Katherine Waterston) and Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). Fassbender dominates every moment he has on screen in two distinct roles, and Scott never shies away from the erotic possibilities of two Fassbenders on screen.
Where Prometheus had a problematic final act, ALIEN: COVENANT has a much firmer idea of how far it wants to take the audience this time out. While it doesn’t bridge the gap between Prometheus and Alien completely, and is somewhat reliant on prior knowledge of both films, we are closer than ever to the Alien world, right down to the company logos now displaying ‘Weyland-Yutani.’ A successful blend of smart science fiction and first-rate action, and a gateway to more films to come.