Review: Ridley Scott's 'Alien: Covenant' Is A Superior Continuation Of 'Prometheus'

Ridley Scott began his revival and subsequent "bridging" of the Alien franchise with Prometheus in 2012, and it's safe to say the results were underwhelming to some. Part of that likely has to do with expectations, considering it was the director's return to an unquestioned sci-fi classic. His decision to focus on philosophy rather than chest-bursting horror, to indulge in questions of faith and creation and species origin were a disappointment to many. Claims of major plotholes should've been tempered by the fact this was merely the beginning of a series that would eventually lead up to 1979's Alien, not a one-shot spinoff with no room to grow. Scott has clearly heard the complaints; he's addressed them numerous times in interviews. But if you think it's caused him to deviate from the road map you'd be wrong, because Alien: Covenant is more of what you liked/hated in Prometheus, so you can either deal with it, or not.

Alien: Covenant probably isn't going to scratch the itch of anyone hoping for a straight-forward movie about aliens killing hapless humans. There is some of that, for sure, but again there are deeper ideas that Scott really wants to explore. The idea of an all-powerful force lording mercilessly over lesser beings is the central theme, but this time Scott is wise to streamline the delivery system with a simple story very much in the Alien mold. Ten years have passed since the events of Prometheus, and the crew of a new ship, the Covenant, are on a colonization mission lasting years. They are manned by the ship's synthetic, Walter (Michael Fassbender), an advanced model of his doppelganger David, who was aboard the Prometheus years earlier. The crew is led by a man of faith, Christopher Orem (Billy Crudup), who as you can imagine will often find that faith tested, and his second-in-command, Daniels (Katherine Waterston). They are awoken from cryo-sleep by a ship malfunction that damages the ship and kills much of the crew, including Daniels' husband. Everybody seems to have a significant other aboard this ship, although none of the relationships are given much exploration except as fodder for when the blood starts to flow.

And so the familiar Alien setup begins. Orem decides to veer off course to check out a human distress signal on a planet that, conveniently, is more habitable than the one they were headed to. Of course, this new planet turns out to be Hell rather than paradise, and soon the team is getting picked off one-by-one in ways both familiar and surprising. If you want chest-bursters and face huggers, you do indeed get those. But classic Xenomorph action is pretty scarce, even though much of what Scott is doing is touching upon how those creatures came to exist. And that has been a sticking point to a lot of people, that the classic creature's origin doesn't jibe with what we know from the original movies. That's a narrow-minded view to take, at least in my opinion, and suggests that we knew EVERYTHING about them right from the beginning when obviously Scott says now that we didn't. With multiple movies still left to go there are plenty of questions that Scott leaves open for answers. Basically, he doesn't just want to make a monster movie, which he could probably do in his sleep. In fact, a drawback is that the scenes which most resemble Alien feel like Scott is simply shooting from memory without putting any effort to make them unique. Well, with one major exception and that is a disturbing scene that will make you think twice about shower sex in outer space.

Scott is more interested in the back-and-forth exchanges between androids David and Walter, which Star Trek fans may recognize as the "Data/Lore" dynamic. The film really belongs to Fassbender and his dual performances as the cruel David attempts to school his innocent "sibling" Walter on the true nature of humanity. Over the years David has grown to see all beings of flesh as a scourge, an imperfection that needs to be wiped out of existence. His arrogance and contempt are tempered, intriguingly, by his conflicted feelings towards Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), the human who saved his life. While the mystery of what truly happened to her is a question dangled for too long to matter, it helps flesh out David as more than just another "mad God" villain hoping to shape the world in his own image.

A huge disappointment is Scott's misuse of a stacked cast from top to bottom. Along with Fassbender, Waterston, and Crudup you also have Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Best Actor nominee Demian Bichir as just another grunt soldier, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, and Amy Seimetz. They fill their roles competently but missing are the starship politics that offer an avenue to character development. Most of what they get to do is...well, die, or react to others dying. Even Waterston's character could have used some punching up before her inevitable transition into a fearsome Ripley-esque warrior.

At this point we are two movies into Scott's newest take on Alien, and by now we know what he's going after. If you picked up some of what he was laying down in Prometheus, then Alien: Covenant will be a satisfying, even superior extension of that. Otherwise, maybe your best bet is to pop in that Aliens Blu-ray and call it a day.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5