In 2012, director Ridley Scott's Alien
was one of the most polarizing movies of the year. People either loved it or hated it, and those opinions tended to sway from one side to the other with subsequent viewings. Because of this, any review of the new Prometheus
prequel should first address the reviewer's thoughts on Prometheus
. For the record, I loved Prometheus
. And, although not quite as effective, Alien: Covenant
is more of the same, with a little more bite.
Set about ten years after the events of Prometheus
, Alien: Covenant
is about a spacecraft called The Covenant that is transporting a group of colonists to a distant planet to start new lives. The crew is awakened from their cryosleep by their synthetic android guardian Walter (Michael Fassbender from 12 Years a Slave
) to deal with a freak accident that damages the ship and results in several casualties, including their captain (True Story
's James Franco in a one-scene flashback). His second, an inexperienced and unconfident man named Oram (Billy Crudup from 20th Century Women
) takes over command, while the captain's wife, a terraform specialist named Daniels (Inherent Vice
's Katherine Waterston) grieves with the sympathetic synthetic Walter.
After the dust settles on the crisis, the crew receives transmissions from a nearby planet that preliminary reports say might be a candidate for colonization. Not wanting to go back into cryosleep, they decide to investigate the source of the signal. The landing party discovers that the planet is a lot like Earth. They also discover that it's the planet where David, the synthetic from Prometheus
(also played by Fassbender), ended up, and he's not alone there.
After the heavy think-piece of Prometheus
, Ridley Scott wanted to get back to the roots of his flagship franchise, and while he doesn't completely leave the existentialism behind, Alien: Covenant
is much more alien-oriented than Prometheus
. Just like both Prometheus
, it's a beautiful, visually stunning film, and also just like Prometheus
, it's an exercise in slow-burn suspense building. But, monster fans will be happy to know, the payoff is much more Alien
. And yes, unlike Prometheus
, there are Xenomorphs in Alien: Covenant
. Really pissed off ones.
is bound to be just as divisive as Prometheus
. It's actually a very good missing link film, treading the middle ground between the philosophical horror of Prometheus
and the creature feature slasher-in-space of Alien
. It even gets a bit action-heavy at times for fans of James Cameron's Aliens
. But, those who thought Prometheus
was a bit on the slow side might be turned off by some of the long diatribes about the creation of life and the weaknesses of the human spirit. Also, during the untangling of the mystery, a greater threat to mankind than the Xenomorphs emerges, and that is another aspect of the film which might upset those purists who just want chestbursting aliens and nothing more.
Although it does stand on its own as a movie, Alien: Covenant
relies heavily on the mythology and events of Prometheus
, so it may be a good idea to give that film a watch (or even a re-watch) before diving in. It will also help to check out the Alien: Covenant
viral videos that have been trickling out in the past months on the internet, as those give little clues as to what's going on as well. There's a lot of backstory to Alien: Covenant
, and the film heavy-handedly explains a lot of things, but in many ways, the explanations only cloud the waters, raising more questions than they answer. Go in prepared, and you'll still be hoping for a sequel that will tie everything in the universe to the good old USCSS Nostromo in Alien
Michael Fassbender steals the show in Alien: Covenant
. Of course, he plays two roles, that of David, the synthetic from Prometheus
, and that of Walter, his lookalike upgraded model. He has a field day with the parts, sharing screen time with himself and even making the long existential sections of the film engaging, mainly because there's twice as much Fassbender to deliver the goods.
The rest of the cast is somewhat of a mixed bag. Katherine Waterston is great, not quite as commanding as Sigourney Weaver's Ripley but holding her own regardless. Billy Crudup shows depth, his character intense and vulnerable at the same time - a nice combination for an insecure leader who was rushed into his position of authority. Amy Semeitz (You're Next
, The Sacrament
) is a bona-fide scream queen, and she shows it off as one of the mission pilots. Another horror icon-in-the-making, Callie Hernandez (Blair Witch
), also stands out.
And then there's guys like Danny McBride (30 Minutes or Less
) and Demián Bichir (The Hateful Eight
), who aren't bad, but seem a little out of place, as if the script hasn't quite figured out what to do with them. Add in James Franco's glorified cameo, and there's some inconsistent stuff happening within the casting of Alien: Covenant
. But honestly, Fassbender's double-duty alone is worth the price of admission.
Ridley Scott must have taken a cue from the haters of Prometheus
who thought that the film moved too slowly, because there's more action in Alien: Covenant
. A fully-armed military team accompanies the researchers down to the surface of the planet that is being explored, and rest assured that all of the requisite rifles and grenades are put to good use. There are a few good alien fights, capped off by one heart-racing sequence where the surviving humans have to escape from the planet while a Xenomorph tries to stop their ship by any means necessary. Alien: Covenant
is not an action-oriented movie, so there are not really many set pieces along the lines of Cameron's Aliens
in it, but the action segments that are there are adrenaline rushers.
On the fear scale, Alien: Covenant
falls somewhere between Prometheus
. It's more traditionally scary than Prometheus
; although it's got the existential questioning and philosophical horror at its core, there are also Xenomorphs (and new aliens called Neomorphs). While there are actors inside the rubber alien suits, the monsters are touched up and embellished with CG, so they don't look as natural as the practical creature effects in Alien
and, therefore, aren't quite as scary, as there's not as much realism to them, which causes a bit of a disconnect with the audience. Still, make no mistake; Alien Covenant
is more of a horror film than a sci-fi film. There are things to be afraid of, both monstrous and otherwise.