Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant feels familiar – despite the director’s inclusion of a plot thread involving the act of creation and its consequences that gives this latest entry into the franchise some much needed oomph – and that is because it not only follows the similar trajectory of previous Alien movies, down to the crew members being picked off one by one by slimy extraterrestrials that burst through their victim’s stomachs and other body parts, but it also gives a shout-out to Blade Runner, although I didn’t immediately catch it.
That being said, Covenant has more in common with Prometheus – the underrated Scott film that explained the origins of this series’ universe – than the numerous other Alien sequels of the 1980s and 1990s. It’s more philosophical and while there are more than a few scenes of blood splattering due to attacks by the titular creatures, this prequel is more interested in exploring the idea of the God complex.
The film opens with David (Michael Fassbender, the android from Prometheus, having a discussion with his creator (Guy Pearce) on the nature of what it means to create. We cut to the Covenant and its crew, who are undertaking a mission to relocate to a new planet with 2,000 colonists in tow who happen to be sleeping. But an accident results in the death of the ship’s captain – and involves a brief glimpse of James Franco in one of the strangest cameos I’ve seen in recent years – who is then replaced by Billy Crudup’s Oram, who appears unsure of his leadership qualities.
Other crew members include Katherine Waterston as Daniels – a stand-in for Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley – as well as the pilot, Tennessee (a restrained Danny McBride), Walter (an upgraded android, also played by Fassbender) and minor characters played by Demian Bichir and Carmen Ejogo. Upon receiving a message from another planet, the crew veers from their mission to respond to the call, much to Daniels’ discomfort.
After arriving on the planet, the crew is attacked by the creatures – known as xenomorphs – but then saved by David, who now has long, flowing hair, wears what can be described best as a Jedi robe and occupies a large cavern all by himself. At first, the crew members trust David, but Walter appears to find the whole scenario fishy.
A conversation between the two androids regarding their own limitations and those of human beings as well as the concept of what it means to be a creator makes this latest “Alien” picture an often fascinating piece of genre filmmaking. Then again, it also relies heavily on the beats of the first pictures – bursting stomachs and backs, an alien stalking the corridors of a ship, a tough heroine in a tank top, etc.
David’s storyline in Covenant accounts for the existence of the previous Alien movies and, quite often, when a sequel attempts to explain away the earlier films, it falls flat (for example, the psychoanalysis of the later Halloween sequels). However, in this case, the explanation is more philosophical by nature and, therefore, more interesting. Scott’s original 1979 picture and James Cameron’s ultra-violent 1986 sequel remain the standard bearers for this series, but Covenant is a well made, intense and thoughtful addendum to the franchise.