Is Alien: Covenant better than Prometheus? Not really, but at least it’s a step closer to recapturing what we love about the Alien franchise.
There’s a computer called Mother, an “express elevator to hell” dropship descent, scuttling facehuggers, some cool – and very bloody – variations on the chestburster, a synthetic that can’t be trusted, and an alien loose aboard a starship.
However, where Prometheus shared DNA with the Alien franchise – namely the nature of the fossilised ‘space jockey’ discovered in the derelict spacecraft by the Nostromo crew – Alien: Covenant is more of a Prometheus sequel than an ‘official’ Alien movie, with the creatures relegated to a supporting role.
Set 10 years after the events of Prometheus, the Covenant is a colony ship carrying two thousand pilgrims and a bank of embryos to a new world. After an energy wave disables it and awakens the crew from hypersleep early, a strange transmission from a nearby planet warrants investigation. What they find is a habitable world where we discover what happened to Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and the synthetic David after they took off in search of the Engineers’ homeworld at the end of Prometheus. We also find out how the Engineers’ bioweapon ultimately becomes the iconic, projectile-jawed and acid-blooded xenomorph. But there’s a lot of exposition to wade through first, most of it delivered by Michael Fassbender’s double act as David and an upgraded model named Walter.
Alien: Covenant continues to explore the philosophical themes of playing god and the nature of creation, and therein lies the problem. Ridley Scott’s determination to demystify the origin of the aliens is actually working to the detriment of the franchise – the fear of the unknown is what made the creatures terrifying in the first place. And by the time the film kicks into high gear as a fully fledged Alien movie, it’s a case of too little, too late.
With a third prequel film to follow that will reportedly dovetail into the events of Alien, it’s hard to see how Scott will tie everything up neatly. Perhaps Fox should reconsider Neill Blomkamp’s idea of an Alien film set between the events of the second and third movies. Sometimes, letting the original director conceive a prequel trilogy isn’t the best move (Star Wars, anybody?) – a pair of fresh eyes and the return of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is what the Alien universe really needs right now.
In cinemas: May 11, 2017
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup
Directed by: Ridley Scott