Ridley Scott is back in his wheelhouse.
In a cryogenic sleep en route to an undiscovered world rests the crew of the good ship called Covenant, sailing through the galaxies to a new establishment for human life. A freak accident causes the crew’s hypersleep pods to malfunction, waking up those within and killing several in the process. While repairing their injured vessel the crew picks up a signal from a nearby planet broadcasting the voice of a woman singing the lyrics to “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver.
Naturally, interests as piqued and the small team we’ve come to know – including our heroine Daniels (Katherine Waterston), Captain Oram (Billy Crudup), and pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride). We, of course, know what movie we’re watching so we know what’s coming their way. That’s no surprise. But what’s most enjoyable about Alien: Covenant is how refreshingly and sincerely scary it turns out to be. It’s giving our bloodthirsty-blockbuster binge a heavy hit while also sneaking in some subversive subtext along the way.
There is the curious case of Walter (Michael Fassbender), the Covenant’s onboard android assistant. Of course, we all know that Fassbender also played a similar robot named David in Prometheus. Without giving too much of the fun away, one could reasonably expect these two Weyland wunderkinds to go toe-to-toe at some point. And when they do, it’s sort of fantastic.
This is ostensibly just Prometheus 2, and if it were presented as such it would be hailed as a truly superior sequel in comparison to its predecessor’s shortcomings. Indeed, many of the errors of Prometheus are corrected here in Alien: Covenant but it does make enough room for Scott to have his cake and eat it too. Covenant takes the best kinds of moments found in the first two Alien movies and mixes in the existential themes of 2012’s aforementioned failed jumpstart of the series.
There are moments when Daniels and her crew are roaming around this strange planet they’ve been hailed to – a world which is instantly far more terrifying than Prometheus’s main planet thanks to the former’s overt similarities to Earth. The team doesn’t even wear helmets when they step off their carrier onto the alien terrain – this is either a glaring omission or an affirmation of the film’s “I don’t give a damn” attitude towards the meat puppets set forth to get chewed up and spit out.
Lots of gnarly and gruesome moments occur at a propulsive pace that keeps even the driest moments from getting too bogged down in their own self-seriousness. It’s fascinating to watch a talented performer such as Michael Fassbender play off himself in dual roles, but the characters’ preachy and on the nose diatribes at times threaten to veer us onto a rocky shoulder on the Covenant’s highway to a new home.
Without getting into any spoilers, the film ends on a really flat note. Despite this drop in energy and excitement it is nevertheless a fascinating point to leave this story off at and one that sort of seals the deal for your investment in future movies in the Alien universe down the line. It could have used a good blast of vitality to get us jumping out of our seats instead of sinking back and shrugging.
Casual movie going audiences are going to get a hell of a lot more enjoyment from Covenant than can be found in many recent horror/sci-fi spectacles in recent memory. And thanks to the combined talents of an impressively diverse and stacked cast, things go down in a smooth and in a palatable manner, if nothing else. The most gruesome moments are totally disgusting and exactly what hardcore fans would want in a movie with the word Alien in the title. It’s got exactly what Alien: Resurrection, Alien vs. Predator, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, and Alien 3 lacked. So in that regard, Covenant is a complete franchise triumph.
Film nerds will recognize lead actress Katherine Waterston as the indelible spectre of the ghosts of love gone past, Shasta Fey Hepworth, in Inherent Vice. She’s strong, powerful, and capable of bringing real emotion to some of the most intense moments. Also of note is acclaimed indie darling Amy Seimetz as the Covenant’s doctor and Danny McBride, who doesn’t crack a single joke and still remains compelling.
Of course, there’s plenty to hate on and complain about. Plot holes and inept character moments aside, it’s still a rather predictable course of events. Though some may laud the “surprise” waiting later on in the film, it’s completely predictable if you’ve ever seen a movie before. Uninspired as it is, it still serves as a plot device more than a genuine character development.
It’s pointless but still really fun to rank movies, so fuck it – I’d place Alien: Covenant as a comfy third behind the first two films, respectively, and way ahead of the Alien vs. Predator movies and the awful Resurrection from 1997. Even if David Fincher’s Alien 3, holds up better when viewed years later -- but it still doesn’t quite deliver the goods. Covenant first and foremost wants to grip you by the shoulders and shake you into a scream. This is good.
For all the howling, blood, guts, and venom, Alien: Covenant still manages to work in just enough time with the film’s prey before they’re swallowed whole to anchor it all with some real weight. It isn’t perfect by any means, and most complaints about the believability of its iffy plot are warranted. Those gripes aside, Alien: Covenant still checks every box that the real believers are hoping to find.
Dan is a lifelong movie geek who's been a projectionist, critic, director, (accidental) actor, and writer in the industry since E.T. phoned home. He currently lives in Vancouver and doesn’t get outside nearly as much as he should.