There’s beauty in Prometheus. Granted, the scientists are foolish (and Fifield, in a mood until he’s devoured and set alight, is an awfully dull character), but it looks stunning. Director Ridley Scott, directing the sequel to Prometheus and, of course, the prequel to his monster iconic horror, Alien, is back in the chair for Alien: Covenant. Connecting the dots between the series, it remains magnificently composed with a new, likeable crew to take on creatures that lurk in the shadows.
The Covenant ship sails through the stars and carries thousands of sleeping humans and embryos, in addition to a small operative crew. There’s a single android, Walter (Michael Fassbender), an updated American-accented version of David from the previous film. All the crew are in on-board relationships, in the expectation that they procreate on the planet they are heading towards. Daniels (Katherine Waterston) and her partner (James Franco), for example, dream of a cabin by a lake. But, as we anticipate, this plan is scuppered by a rogue, unlucky shock that damages the ship and takes multiple lives, including the captain of the Covenant itself. The teams, remaining optimistic, are still almost seven years from their destination and during an effort to fix the vessel, a signal beams from a closer planet. It’s a planet deemed “habitual” and therefore, could be a place to colonise. After the loss of life already, they are fearful of another stint for seven years in the pods and instead decide to home in on the signal, opposed to the intended planet.
But there’s no sign of animal life on this land, despite wheat, water and lush forest. Suffice to say, this planet does include an alien life form that doesn’t take kindly to their exploits. This was the planet we briefly viewed in the prologue of Prometheus. Those enormous engineers, towering over the humans, lived on this planet – and, we find out, it was the final destination for the two survivors of the Prometheus mission. Rather than revealing the creatures slowly, it isn’t long before they burst forth from human bodies and the action begins. H.R. Giger’s original explicit and intricate designs for Alien have been built upon, with versions we haven’t seen before. Grotesque and shocking, these fearsome predators [literally] get under your skin.
While Michael Fassbender, in two android roles, is mesmerising, it is fascinating to see how writers John Logan and Dante Harper (though a story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green), purposefully or not, manage to fuse into Covenant connections to every prior Alien film. The long halls and alien hunt from Alien; A colonisation mission recalls the decimated colony on LV-426 in Aliens; an “alien-eye-view” and dog-like animalistic design of one alien is akin to Alien 3; David’s fascination and obsession with “genetic experimentation” is a ripple from the hideous Ripley clones of Alien: Resurrection. It seems as if Alien: Covenant is everything you want from an Alien movie, squeezed into a single film.
Indeed, David’s work between Prometheus and Covenant is what makes this instalment so intriguing. Many enjoy the shoot-and-run action of the Ripley sequels but there’s more nuance, detail and considered thought behind Ridley Scott’s extension of the universe. How good intentions – or even, human intentions – can be corrupted and abused, with consequences that are desperately out of our control, is a riveting concept. The opening to Covenant places David with his creator, Weyland (Guy Pearce). There’s awe and resentment oozing off the both characters. Weyland seeks to control David, but all-knowing and intelligent, the droid is quick to realise that his immortality and awareness of his creator immediately places him in a superior position. This then begs the question, as the superior being, why should he be following human orders at all? These are profound and powerful questions that cinema only scratches the surface of.
The thrill of big guns and big soldiers may be exciting and fun, but it doesn’t compare to the lingering questions that are raised in Alien: Covenant. Slowly, the series that relied so much on Sigourney Weaver in her heroic role, is carving out a new voice that tackles the very existence of life itself – and our human need to survive. Prometheus may have detached itself too much from the Alien saga, but Alien: Covenant reclaims its connection (and raises Prometheus to the same status). It has all the components needed to engage both your head and set your heart racing, while paving the way for a future that could eclipse the first series of sequels entirely.