In 2012, Ridley Scott attempted to present to audiences with a prequel to his seminal 1979 science-fiction/horror masterpiece, Alien. When I first saw Prometheus, I was actually very supportive of it; the film reeked of 1970’s science-fiction trademarks (such as a slowly building narrative, wide expansive shots, and deeper philosophical questions regarding humanity against the backdrop of science-fiction). However, upon repeated viewings, Prometheus is more of a massive missed opportunity for the larger Alien franchise. Rather than being a straight-up (perhaps predictable) prequel to Alien that explained what the Space Jockey was, how the alien spacecraft got to LV-426, and where the Xenomorphs came from, Scott appeared to have gotten too caught up and too preoccupied with establishing a disconnected film that was part of an entirely new science-fiction/horror franchise. The result was a convoluted, mixed-up film that wasn’t quite sure what it was or what it was trying to accomplish.
Now, quite some time later, Scott presents the sequel to Prometheus and what is rumoured to be the first in three more prequel films set before Alien. Alien: Covenant opens not directly after the events of Prometheus but some time before that movie as we witness the activation of David (Michael Fassbender), the calculating android from Prometheus, and his initial conversations with his creator, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce). This conversation establishes that David is just as inquisitive as his human creator and has little desire to live his life purely as a servant to those who believe themselves to be better than him simply because they created him.
The film then jumps ahead to ten years after Prometheus. Walter (…also Fassbender, though with a pretty convincing American accent) is maintaining systems onboard the titular Covenant, which is carrying a whole bunch of colonists on a seven year journey to a new planet to colonise. A random neutrino bursts damages the ship and Walter is forced to awaken the crew, though captain Jacob Branson (James Franco) is roasted alive in his cryo-tube, leaving Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge. As a man of faith rather than science, and given the tough decisions he has to make in the wake of this tragedy, Oram struggles with his newly-appointed position and to get the ship repaired so they continue on their way.
However, during the repairs, the ship picks up a recognisable melody coming from a nearby hospitable world that they somehow missed during their research. With the drew reluctant to return to cryo-sleep after the fate that befall their captain, Oram elects to pop down to this new world despite the objections of Branson’s widow, Daniels (Katherine Wilson).
Upon landing, they discover the world is fully vegetated but devoid of animal life. They stumble across a crashed Engineer craft and, along the way, disturbed some dark vegetation that infects two of them. The infected crew members quickly succumb to the alien parasite and, in spectacular fashion, become hosts to the Neomorphs. During the violent birthing, the crew’s craft is destroyed and many of the survivors are besieged by the Neomorphs until they are rescued by David.
David takes them to a safety in a lifeless city whose grounds are littered with the twisted bodies of vaguely-humanoid creatures. While some of the crew attempt to radio the Covenant for a rescue, David relates to Walter, Orum, and Daniels the fate of Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Repace) and what happened following Prometheus:
Shaw put David back together and he piloted them to the Engineer homeworld, falling in love with her along the way. Although she died during the journey, he bombarded the planet with the black alien goo from Prometheus, which destroyed the entire Engineer civilisation. Since then, David has been taking the Engineer’s technology and modifying it for his own ends.
Confronted by Orum, David reveals that he killed Shaw and that he has gestated a number of large, familiar-looking eggs. A facehugger latches onto Orum and (very soon afer), a chestburster emerges. David then protects the young Xenomorph by fighting with Walter so that his ultimate plan to obliterate the human species can be realised. With Tennesse (Danny McBride) fighting through the planet’s hostile atmosphere to rescue the survivors, Walter manages to get Daniels and Lope (Demián Bichir) onto the rescue craft, where they are attacked by a fully-matured Xenomorph.
Although they kill the Xenomorph and make it back to the Covenant, another emerges from Lope and kills the rest of the crew before Tennesse, Daniels, and Walter suck it out into space. Injured but alive, Daniels returns to cryo-sleep…only to learn far too late that it was David, not Walter, who survived the earlier battle. David puts her to cryo-sleep and prepares a fresh batch of facehugger embryos with which he can infect the entirety of the Covenant’s colonists and crew to continue his experiments.
Alien: Covenant still has its fair share of issues, mainly relating to continuity: like Prometheus, the film renders the AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004, 2007) franchise no longer canon, but it also has some issues with the continuity it established in Prometheus. Mainly, we saw cravings and imagery of the Xenomorphs on Prometheus, suggesting that the Engineers had already created them (although it could be argued that David merely perfected the art of Xenomorph creation with his experiments). Secondly, it feels as though a big chunk of the film is missing as we only get one brief flashback to David’s annihilation of the Engineers and only get told about what happened to Shaw and between the films. Finally, the gestation period between facehugger and chestburster continues to be agonisingly fast; I understand why (to move events on and pick the pace up) but it’s still a bit jarring.
However, Alien: Covenant more than makes up for the mediocrity that was Prometheus; the film looks and sounds fantastic and is much closer to the aesthetic of Alien. Much of the cluttered, convoluted plot elements from Prometheus are abandoned in favour of more recognisable elements, which may be a little disappointing as it makes the previous film feel like even more of a massive waste of time and I can’t help but think that we’ve had to endure two movies to tell a story that could’ve been accomplished in one movie.
I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews and some harsh negative comments about this film, but I have to disagree. If this is to be the beginning of a new series of films set before Alien, I’d say that we’re in for something much more entertaining and enjoyable than more films that emulate the style of Prometheus. If Scott can continue to address and make up for the flaws of the film and extenuate the strengths of his world and the creatures that inhabit it, we could be one step closer to getting a film just as flawless as Alien before long.
Recommended: Absolutely, if only to wash the taste of Prometheus out of your mouth.
Best moment: The vicious birth of the first Neomorph; the little bastard spews out of the back of its host in fantastically gory fashion.
Worst moment: The sudden decimation of the Engineers and the abandonment of what was once the most intriguing, unanswered question of Alien.