By Ryen Thomas
May 19, 2017
When cinema mastermind Ridley Scott directs a picture with the word “alien” somewhere in the title, it demands attention. After a few early hits and a string of debatable misses, Scott and the franchise give us Alien: Covenant, the perfect bridge between the first installment, Alien and it’s 2012 polarizing prequel, Prometheus.
Alien: Covenant begins ten years later after the tragic events of Prometheus and features a new ensemble consisting of James Franco, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Carmen Ejogo, and Demian Bichir. The team consists of brave and bold voyagers from Earth enroute to a new home with two thousand sleeping colonists and frozen embryos onboard the ship aiming to become the Adam and Eves of the new world.
In the Biblical account of Adam and Eve, it’s Eve who first makes the choice that leads down the path of man’s demise. However, in Covenant the roles are reversed with women as the ones fighting for mankind’s survival. The use of strong women harkens back to Sigourney Weaver’s iconic role as Ripley and, like her, they come off as the smart ones in the room while the male characters (and their egos) make questionable choices, derail the mission and put humanity into harm’s way.
Scott serves up a beautiful monster movie here that may feel like it’s treading familiar ground. Fans will appreciate all the franchise hallmarks: realistic effects, plenty of jitters, exploding bodies, guts, blood, automation, elaborate set pieces, thick atmosphere… all the things that helped to create the haunting tone in the original Alien. If you want more aliens, you’ll get more aliens and less head scratching, which is the probable response to viewers who may have been upset and agitated by Prometheus’ overly mythological tendencies. The straightforward plot runs smoothly and without the need for cosmic confusion.
However, let’s remember that people being chased in the tight places by lethal extraterrestrials is the core of the Alien series, and (like Ridley Scott, apparently) I see no good reason to reinvent that wheel. Whatever its similarities to the previous movies, Covenant is still a strong film complemented by a secondary narrative that could be its own film in and of itself. It’s this narrative that serves as the true heir to Prometheus and connects the film’s 22nd-century technology in the film to our own modern world’s emerging use of automation.
Michael Fassbender’s android David helps provide that connection. Fassbender brilliantly delivers dual performances as David, the stoic and sometimes mysterious android from Prometheus and Walter, who is an updated version of David. Their role and objective provides the complexity driving most of the film’s unexpected moments and suspense. Through them, we the viewers face our own mortality and hauntingly ask philosophical questions about man as the creation and the creator of things. The first scene positions him as a major point of view so it sometimes feels like his story, with him as true protagonist and the secondary narrative of the real movie.
It’s Katherine Waterston’s heroine that provides the redemptive possibilities for good old-fashioned people in this face of the implications of David/Walter’s technological transcendence. Waterston nicely follows in Sigourney Weaver’s legacy without repeating it, but to explain further would be ruin one of the film’s more unexpected deviations from the formula.
Scott creates much to love in Alien: Covenant with themes and multiple plot points that run seamlessly together and shots that could have been painted by a baroque master, giving us a world that comes closer to the one we discovered in the film that started it all. Alien: Covenant serves its job connecting the stories of the existing movies, because it helps us come full circle. Most of all, it’s a killer Alien movie, which in the end, is exactly what it should be.
Star Rating: 4 out of 5