This is a tough one, folks. Alien: Covenant is going to be a very, very divisive film for fans of the Alien franchise, and it’s very hard to give objective reasons why any one interpretation is better than another. The Alien franchise has undergone numerous permutations over the decades, so any argument of whether Covenant is sacreligious to the original feels fallacious to me, as do arguments comparing Covenant to Prometheus for good or for ill. It’s impossible to judge Covenant in a vacuum, but how it measures up to the other installments of the Alien franchise is going to depend entirely on what it is you’re looking for in an Alien movie and what reference point within the franchise you are basing that assessment off of. But for whatever it’s worth, I thought Alien: Covenant was a return to form for the franchise, rivaling Alien 3 as the third best installment.
Aboard the colony ship Covenant, android Walter (Michael Fassbender) is monitoring the ship’s systems, while the crew rests in hibernation, when an emergency forces the crew awake to make repairs. During the chaos of the forced awakening, the ship’s captain dies, leaving first mate Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge and elevating the captain’s wife, Daniels (Katherine Waterston) to second in command. While making repairs, pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride) picks up a rogue transmission that points them to a habitable planet. Oram’s faith and desperation directs them to scout out this planet as a possible alternative for settlement, but while exploring the eerily quiet wilderness some of the crew fall ill, alien monsters bursting from their bodies and threatening to kill them all.
Let’s address the problems first. Not every plot thread quite comes together by the end, and the plot’s reliance on Prometheus‘s weak faith-based theming during the first act does little to either retroactively justify Prometheus or elevate the backstory to be a necessary piece of Alien lore. Furthermore, the third act finale relies on an incredibly obvious twist that anyone who is half paying attention will see coming a mile away, even if it works quite well with the themes Covenant puts on display during the later acts once it effectively abandons the faith-based postulating.
But it’s those themes that make Covenant so interesting to me, and the problem is that I can’t explore them without getting into extreme spoiler territory. The best I can do to explain is to say that if Alien‘s themes were expanded upon in Aliens, it’s Covenant‘s purview to complement those themes in the darkest, most lurid way possible. All this is wrapped in an exploratory character drama that examines loss of loved ones in traumatic experiences while delivering bloody xenomorph violence that pushes the boundaries of what this franchise has previously demonstrated. For those worried about the xenomorph’s transition to computer generation, know that the rendering is as great a translation as we could come to expect, and the new neomorph is an equally unsettling creation that fully deserves its place in the Alien canon.
But for how much I love parts of Alien: Covenant, I’m forced to acknowledge that my adoration for the direction Ridley Scott is taking these prequels is not going to rub everyone the right way, particularly if one finds the notion of providing an origin story for the xenomorphs intrinsically offensive. I find this narrative fascinating on a thematic and subtextual level, and Covenant builds an adequate enough story around its themes with enough shocking thrills to entirely justify its existence. The very fact that a film can be so divisive among a fan community is enough to justify a recommendation in my book. Whether or not you end up liking Alien: Covenant, it’s worth the price of admission just to be in on the conversation.