Much has been made of director Ridley Scott’s ups and downs in the world of cinema. After his Alien prequel, Prometheus, Scott and the studio were ready to leave care of the franchise to District 9 director Neill Blomkamp. Rumors of riffs between the two (and the wild success of The Martian) led to Scott taking back control and now we have Alien: Covenant. The latest sequel/prequel dives into more of the lore behind the legendary science fiction franchise. Covenant‘s prequel, the aforementioned Prometheus, set up some of the familiar aspects of the 1979 original albeit with clumsy execution. Although I personally enjoyed Prometheus, it wasn’t what exactly what I was expecting. While Alien: Covenant is a solid entry into the series, and capably executed, the film stumbles when it comes to crafting a wholly engrossing plot and intriguing character development.
Ten years after the events of Prometheus, a new crew piloting the ship called Covenant, is on a mission to populate a new planet with colonists asleep aboard the ship. After their captain (a brief appearance by James Franco) dies coming out of cryogenic sleep, a new captain (Billy Crudup) takes control of the ship. With the help of his crew they embark to search a different planet than originally planned upon after a mysterious transmission comes over the ship’s communication channels. A reluctant crew member named Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the wife of the late captain, is opposed but is overruled by her crew members. The crew finds they will get more than they bargained for.
Returning from Prometheus is Michael Fassbender. Fassbender plays Walter, an android tasked with servicing the ship while its crew are in cryo-sleep. Walter is an updated model of David (also played by Fassbender) who served Walter’s role on the Prometheus. Walter and David have some incredibly brilliant scenes together. Fassbender seamlessly plays a dual role and is easily the stand out of the film.
The rest of Alien: Covenant is aptly performed by the solid cast. The real issue with these characters is a very egregious lack of development. Crudup who plays Captain Oram in particular is very underdeveloped. Oram is introduced as a very religious man, but the film never explores this aspect of his character. Early in the film his wife, played by the terrific Carmen Ejogo, establishes his position of faith as something that doesn’t fit in in this world. That, to me, is a particularly fascinating aspect of character exploration, but John Logan and Dante Harper’s script rarely revisits this aspect.
At the core of the film, there is a element of exploring a god complex, specifically in the films breathtaking prologue. David and Walter’s creator, Peter Wayland (Guy Pearce), speaks with David in an attempt to establish power over David. David may be the only character who is fleshed out.
As for the film that follows the prologue, it is thrilling at times. Scott’s aptitude for action shows through the film has incredible sound design. Visual effects are the center of every sci-fi adventure and Alien: Covenant is certainly no exception. There are some wonderful shots scaling the landscape of the planet the Covenant’s crew lands on. The scenes with the NeoMorphs attacking the ships crew are thrilling on a visual aspect and are flat out fun to watch. That has always been a strength of this franchise is the tension built up during the action set pieces. Alien: Covenant doesn’t need to rely on the cheap jump scares similar alien flicks do.
Despite all of the great technical achievements in the film, the result of the action sequences is unfortunately sometimes not as resonant as they should be. Alien: Covenant is much more fluid than its predecessor and has some thrilling and enjoyable action pieces. Yet, the film stumbles a little it its storytelling. In the large picture, the film stands nearly two decades away from the original film. For hardcore Alien fans it may lack some of the answers your looking for. Ultimately, Alien: Covenant is satisfying but never reaches the depth of the franchises core films, but certainly improves upon Prometheus. As a fan of the franchise it will be intriguing to see what happens next as we get closer the the 1979 classic.