With 2012’s Prometheus, Ridley Scott shifted the focus of his Alien franchise from interesting human characters to a story with deep philosophical and religious themes. While I really loved the movie (even though I acknowledge many of its issues), the majority of viewers complained online about one thing: the lack of Xenomorph action. Scott read the complaints, and decided to satisfy the fans’ hunger for extraterrestrial terror.
Alien: Covenant is a direct sequel to Prometheus, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride and Billy Crudup. Set 10 years after the previous installment, we follow the crew of the colony ship Covenant as they explore an uncharted planet that is more dangerous than it looks.
Most of the film crew of Prometheus comes back, and the most welcome return is cinematographer Dariusz Wolski: from the first shot to the last, the movie is full of gorgeous panoramic shots, vistas, intense closeups, POV shots… If there is something that everyone is going to enjoy, is how the film looks, and part of it is thanks to Scott’s passion for sets and practical effects: from the Covenant and jungle of the planet, to smaller space ships and giant temples, the world feels believable and lived in, looking closer to 1979’s Alien than Prometheus did. The soundtrack by Jed Kurzel is the best one of the entire franchise, with nods and references to both Jerry Goldsmith’s and Marc Streitenfield’s scores.
The story is what really sold the movie for me: watching the two entries in this new trilogy back to back is the best way to experience them, for many questions that were first left unanswered now have solid explanations, and many references to events and characters of the first film feel rewarding since you actually understand them. The themes of creation, beliefs, death and humanity that were first explored in Prometheus are further analyzed, and I was in awe of the many references to classical literature and music.
This time around the crew is far more interesting than last time, and I actually cared about the majority of them. This does not mean that they are great characters, but at least they are not caricatures or assholes. Katherine Waterston as Daniels is compelling as the 2nd in command, the always reliable Billy Crudup is good as the insecure captain, and Danny McBride as Tennessee is a surprise, for he delivers the strongest performance and emotions from all the human cast, making me hopeful in seeing him in more dramatic roles.
[minor spoilers ahead]
However, just like with Prometheus, the real standout is Michael Fassbender: he plays both the newer android Walter and the older David. He remains the most memorable part of this movie, and for good reason: everything revolves around David, he is the main character of this new trilogy. A character that you grow to both love and hate, someone who admires humans and at the same time despises them, an android more who can create music and draw paintings, an android who makes decisions and has a personal agenda. Whenever he was on screen, I could barely blink, and this character/performance alone is worth the price of admission. Also, the long take when David and Walter are talking is one of the best scenes of this year.
[end of spoilers]
The main draw for many audience members is going to be the return of the Xenomorph, and you are going to learn how he got created. That whole storyline is important for the entire Alien universe, but it was not the main focus of the movie, so this will definitely disappoint some fans. The creature is mostly CGI that looks surprisingly good, while the more practical effects (especially when it comes to the gore) are delightfully disgusting and bloody, and the kills do not feel gratuitous or straight out from a slasher movie.
While there are many aspects that I enjoyed and loved about this movie, there are some faults that might ruin your experience that need to be addressed. Pretty much all the characters that I haven’t mentioned so far are just there to increase the bodycount, and they never get any type of character development (not even Demián Bichir and Carmen Ejogo). The first act was slow to a fault, with a couple of scenes dragging a little bit, but when we get to the planet the pacing becomes more engaging. Sadly, the climax of the movie was a tad disappointing and tacked on, with a final Xeno attack that did not need to be there. Thankfully, the actual final scene is pure gold in how nihilistic and bleak it is.
Last, but definitely not least, is that the movie is predictable. While it did not bother me, my dad (who watched this with me) was constantly predicting what was going to happen, and he was always right. While I tried to defend the film in a multitude of ways (what could they have done differently), but I cannot deny that I too knew where a couple of things were going. I am not holding it against the movie, but some viewers are easily going to dismiss it for this very reason.
Overall, Alien: Covenant is a thrilling second entry that manages to be both entertaining and thought provoking. With a memorable performance by Fassbender, a deeper exploration of themes already set up, and great promise for the final entry, this predictable but fun sci-fi horror is a movie that demands to be seen in a packed theater. So far, the best sci-fi blockbuster of the year, and one that I will definitely watch again.
Visual Effects: 8.5
Violence & Gore: 9
Sex & Nudity: 7
Drugs & Profanity: 5
Intensity & Horror: 8