Admit it: we all despised 2012’s Prometheus
, right? It was too long, too confusing, and didn’t seem to have much to do with the Alien
franchise at all.
Thankfully, with Alien: Covenant
, director Ridley Scott (The Martian
) has his act together: the action is exciting, the visuals are bold and impressive (see this in IMAX if you can), and the story has clarity that nicely anticipates future installments. This is how you make a good prequel.
takes place 10 years after Prometheus
, and 20 years before Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) first battle in Alien
(1979). The crew of the Covenant is transporting colonists looking to settle on a planet that’s still seven years away. After crew members are unexpectedly awakened by an energy surge, they decide to explore a planet that happens to be nearby.
This just so happens to be the same planet on which chaos reigned in Prometheus
, so we know horrors await the unsuspecting crew. In a subtle move that brings more humanity to the characters, a number of crew members are married to one another: Daniels (Katherine Waterston) is married to Branson (an uncredited James Franco), who dies early on; Tennessee (Danny McBride) and Faris (Amy Siemetz) enjoy playful married-people banter; Oram (Billy Crudup) and Karine (Carmen Ejogo) take themselves seriously; and Upworth (Callie Hernandez) is hooking up with Ricks (Jussie Smollett). Michael Fassbender also returns in the dual role of David, the android who survived Prometheus
, and Walter, the latest upgrade of the android. We know most of them will die before film’s end, so part of the intrigue becomes who will survive, and how.
There’s a predictable twist in the denouement, but otherwise the story holds together well. The question of the origin of life is established early on as a thematic element, but Scott and screenwriters John Logan and Dante Harper ignore it as the plot kicks into gear. When they return to the idea later it’s a tad unfulfilling — in part because the lucidity needed to truly answer that question cannot be given when there are more prequels to come.
As for the action, it’s tremendous. There are only so many ways we can watch aliens kill people; and sure, some of it we’ve seen before. But the first time the aliens attack is equal parts dramatic, nicely edited and “oh damn!” for the audience. I also don’t think we’ve gotten a kill of two lovers in the shower, and we certainly haven’t gotten anything like our heroine on top of a transport ship that’s taking off as she fights the Xenomorph. This sequence is daring and dazzling, and consistent with the franchise’s theme of strong female heroines who don’t need men to rescue them.
One word keeps coming to mind as I think about Alien: Covenant
, and that’s “redemption.” The third and fourth Alien
movies, as well as Prometheus
, were disappointments. (We do not speak of the Alien vs. Predator
movies. Ever.) Now, finally, we have a worthy installment to the franchise, one that fans can faithfully hope will be built upon in exhilarating ways.