Who would have thought the best thing about this franchise wouldn’t be the aliens?
After being very disappointed by Ridley Scott‘s previous Alien film, Prometheus, I’m so glad to say that this installment is much meaner, much darker, and should actually give fans what they wanted out of its predecessor. It’s clear that Scott heard the criticisms of the last film (dumb characters, a plot that went nowhere) and addressed those here. But while doing so, he thankfully didn’t abandon the things that many at appreciated or even liked about it. Believe me, this is as much an apology for Prometheus as it is a sequel to it.
The film opens with one of the best things about the previous film, David (played by Michael Fassbender), and from that point on, he drives the rest of the film. It’s clear Scott loves the idea behind the character and his role in this ever-expanding universe, so to see that they kept him integrable to the plot was a smart idea. Everything Scott wanted to say about life, creation and our purpose in the universe in Prometheus is built upon and much better told here, thanks to Michael Green tightly-written story. This time, these philosophical moments are free of the pretentiousness that they reeked of last time. If anything, it’s because they actually tie into something – love.
Unlike the crews from the other installments, this crew in this film is transporting thousands of people in search of colonizing a planet away from Earth. They crew members are all couples, are seen as the leaders of this new civilization. They are drawn to each other because they need to. They aren’t just workers on a commercial vessel or using trillions of dollars just to go “exploring” – they are trying to save humanity. This is an interesting dynamic, as everyone is in-expendable, but we know their fates certainly won’t be pretty.
And then we have the android, Walter (also played by Michael Fassbender) who’s the middle-man between the human crew and David, one of his own. Creation, death and rebirth are all at play and resolve in a bloody mess (it is an Alien film, after all). This theme of “love” is what helps Scott define where he wants to take his thoughts (unlike his scattershot approach in the last film) and manages to successfully tie it all back to the Alien lore. It’s smart and it’s dark as hell, but it also has fun with its premise.
It does goes deep in its own mythology, putting previous geek-centric installment Alien Resurrection to shame. But if anything, that might be the film’s biggest flaw – it doesn’t stand on it’s own. It works as a prequel to the original films, but you do need to see Prometheus to understand what David is saying half the time. And while it’s great to see the Alien in action, it almost feels like an afterthought. The has great characters, it builds its universe well and it’s a bloody good time, but it’s very dependent on what came before (or after), which is probably it’s biggest crutch. David, who’s probably now the most interesting thing about this franchise now thanks to this film, wouldn’t have been involved if it weren’t for the film beforehand.
Despite being strictly a sequel that really doesn’t stand on its own, Alien: Covenant is fierce, full of well-utilized ideas and themes and has characters that we can actually root for. It ended up being much more than the cookie-slasher flick that the trailers sold it as, while still giving people more of what they wanted in the first place – a horror-centric Alien film.
Ridley Scott is at the top of his game here, directing something *much* stronger than anything I’ve seen from him since Gladiator back in 2000. And between you and I, I think it’s the best film we’ve gotten in this franchise since the original.