I’ll cut to the chase. Alien: Covenant is better than Prometheus, but it’s not (nor will any movie in this franchise ever be) better than Alien or Aliens. Cool? Cool. Let’s dive into the movie now.
Taking place ten years after the events of Prometheus (but still before Alien), the Covenant is on a seven-year journey to colonize Origae-6 with 15 crew members, 2,000 colonists, and thousands of second-generation embryos. After a neutrino burst damages the ship, android Walter (Michael Fassbender) awakens the crew to make repairs. Branson (James Franco), the captain, is killed by a malfunctioning pod, so his second-in-command, Oram (Billy Crudup), becomes the new captain, and Branson’s wife, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), his second. When the Covenant crew comes across a transmission from a nearby Earth-like planet, they decide to stop and deem if it’s a better place to build their colony than Origae-6. While on the planet, the crew discovers a crashed Promethean ship, the deadly alien pathogen that decimated the Prometheus crew, and Prometheus’ android David (also Michael Fassbender).
If you liked Prometheus, good news! The philosophical musings about creationism, life and death, fathers and mothers, and evolution are still here, as is the enigmatic, creepy android who embodies those very musings. If you didn’t like Prometheus because you preferred Alien, good news! You still get the slow-building horror of a parasite eating its way through an unsuspecting crew. And if you weren’t a fan of either because you preferred the balls-out action scenes of Aliens, then I guess just watch the last 20 to 30 minutes because that’s when shit hits the fan. What I’m saying is Alien: Covenant seems to blend the best parts of the original Alien films with the best parts of Prometheus (and I still maintain Prometheus is an underrated sci-fi gem that was simply misunderstood by people who expected Aliens).
Alien: Covenant has all of the elements of Ridley Scott’s Alien universe. The vulnerable yet more than capable of kicking ass heroine. The “Everything is going to be fine” attitude from the other characters right before all hell breaks loose (If this franchise has taught us anything, it’s listen to the f***ing woman). The sexual fear displayed through phallic and uterine imagery, as well as rape and birth metaphors. The gorgeous cinematography that showcases the deep loneliness and mystery of space. And, of course, the xenomorph we’ve all come to
But like Prometheus, this film doesn’t rely solely on the alien. It attempts to tackle loftier concepts. Where Prometheus went with a religious-based discussion of creationism focused on the relationship between god and man, Alien: Covenant went more of the “man playing god via science” route with a master and monster relationship. Imagine Frankenstein, but if Dr. Frankenstein were an android and his monster were a xenomorph. It’s almost as if the screenwriters and Scott were making a gothic horror simply set in a futuristic world.
A couple of examples…David, the android who’s responsible for the xenomorph’s existence, loves Wagner’s Das Rheingold and even quotes Percy Shelley’s sonnet, “Ozymandias” (Shelley, by the way, was married to Frankenstein writer Mary Shelley, so there’s some not-very-far degrees of separation for you). And then there’s the cinematography and production design. Down on the planet in David’s Promethean metropolis hideout (which is straight-up a tribute to Pompeii’s destruction), we’re shown what’s essentially David’s mad science lab, complete with insect etchings, alien heads at various developmental stages, and a corpse displayed in an almost Virgin Mary-like manner. Oh, and I almost forgot the blatant reference to Hamlet‘s Ophelia when one of the female crew members is slaughtered in the bath.
But it’s not all 18th and 19th century literature references. There’s a SHIT ton of gore in this movie and, unsurprisingly, horror tropes…like the couple about to get it on getting murdered.
As far as the characters go, about 90% of them are red-shirt alien bait, so you won’t get to know them. But Daniels (Waterston), Tennessee (McBride), Walter (Fassbender), and David (Fassbender) are pretty great. Don’t let Daniels’ perpetual weepy face (I seriously can’t tell if that’s Waterston’s face or part of her acting for Daniels) throughout the movie throw you off. She’s a sci-fi heroine with a good mix of brains, bravado, vulnerability, and optimism.
If I had to pick my favorite thing about Alien: Covenant, though, it’s the music. Jed Kurzel’s score is like Gustav Holst’s The Planets meets Steven Price’s panic-inducing score for Gravity. Ethereal yet unnerving, which is exactly what you want for a sci-fi/horror set in the depths of space. And if I had to pick my least favorite thing? I love, love, love the iconic xenomorph, but this movie’s use of CGI for its scenes takes away from the fear created by more practical effects.
On a final note…before you see this movie, I highly recommend you watch the two prologue videos: Crossing and Last Supper. Though these were technically intended as marketing for the movie, they do provide some Prometheus tie-ins and more background about the crew.