Review by Drew Bittner
Basically: It’s better than PROMETHEUS but that’s a pretty low bar to clear.
Summary: In the year 2104, a colony ship makes an unexpected detour… and has a rendezvous with horror.
ALIEN: COVENANT is the new movie from Ridley Scott, legendary director of the original ALIEN. Featuring Michael Fassbender as the android David and his upgraded “brother” Walter, Katherine Waterston as “Danny” Daniels, Billy Crudup as Oram and Danny McBride as Tennessee, the story follows the journey of the colony ship Covenant. With a crew of seven couples and one synthetic (Walter), the ship encounters an emergency with their ship. The repair effort leads to the discovery of an impossible transmission; what seems like a human-originated message on an Earth-like world not far away. Facing the alternative of seven years to their destination, the crew votes to explore the new world. What they discover is a planet with great potential—and some horrific surprises as they take shelter with David, the last survivor of PROMETHEUS. As the crew learns, the lonely android has plans of his own…and a very definite goal with long-lasting ramifications.
Despite some strong performances and a solid script, it’s hard to see where ALIEN: COVENANT adds to the Alien cosmology. With echoes of both ALIEN and ALIENS, it functions best as a bridge between the truly mediocre PROMETHEUS and the first ALIEN movie. Even at that, however, it raises at least as many questions as it seeks to answer. We learn where some things came from in the first place, yet their origin does not align with what the crew of the Nostromo discovered in the 1979 original. Much like PROMETHEUS, these are also (in some cases) answers to questions the audience wasn’t inclined to ask. By exploring deeper into the origin of the Xenomorphs, Scott and company run the risk of demystifying them to the point of being too fully known to be frightening.
There’s also the angle of having the crew be composed of seven married couples. This presents a challenge: If there’s an emergency, would married couples be comfortable splitting up and going into danger? Would a commanding officer be capable of making cold and dispassionate decisions that could well cost the life of a spouse? This premise might prove a distraction for those inclined to dissect the sociology of space-faring colonists.
There are jump-scares, of course—it would not be an Alien movie without them—but several of these are expected. There are definitely twists to the story, but astute viewers may well find themselves playing the Cassandra game, predicting plot developments in advance. (At least that’s better than the MST3k game, where you’re shouting out plot as it happens.) The fate of certain characters may well be a surprise, with loose ends from PROMETHEUS tied up, but the rather open-ended conclusion of the story suggests that yes, there is more to come. Hopefully the next installment will offer up something truly different, rather than a cast of likeable characters playing out Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (1965) in space.
In the end: ALIEN: COVENANT offers up likeable characters facing a familiar problem: Lethal Xenomorphs. But there’s more to it than that, bridging PROMETHEUS and ALIEN, it answers questions not many were asking and sets up a big question mark for a sequel.