Set 10 years after the events of Prometheus, this film follows a colony ship named Covenant as it travels across space carrying 2,000 colonists and 15 crew members. The occupants are kept in a cryogenic sleep while the ship’s course is monitored by Walter, an updated version of the android David (played by Michael Fassbender). An energy wave from a nearby star causes a power surge, which prematurely wakes up some of the crew from hypersleep, and results in others – including the ship’s captain – being killed in their sleeping pods.
Oram (Billy Crudup), steps into the role of captain, and when the crew receives a transmission from a nearby planet, he directs the Covenant to investigate it. Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the previous captain’s widow and now the first mate of the ship, protests this but is ultimately overruled. The planet soon reveals itself to be a dark and dangerous place, inhabited by the original David from Prometheus (also played by Fassbender), and monstrous creatures which start to hunt down the new arrivals.
Ridley Scott seems to have relished in taking us back to the world which he helped create back in 1979. Thematically, this film is closer to the original Alien than to its direct predecessor Prometheus, which was great for me because while Prometheus had some very high-minded ideas, it simply wasn’t that much fun to watch. Here, Scott remains closer to what has worked best for the franchise: scaring the bejesus out of the audience while peppering the film with some very sophisticated themes.
The scares in Alien: Covenant work well because they operate on two levels: the first, and most obvious, is the visceral scares provided by the terrifying, gross and highly aggressive Xenomorphs. The second level of scares is deeper and more terrifying, exploring what it means to be human and to be fallible – to be obsessed with the idea of immortality whilst, ultimately, being mortal. While these themes were explored in Prometheus, Covenant leans into them in a way which still feels like an Alien film, and presents them in a way which is frankly more palatable.
The performances were good across the board. Katherine Waterston delivers a solid performance as Daniels, and Danny McBride provides some much-needed moments of lightness and humour in a film which quite dark and serious. The most outstanding performance is that of Michael Fassbender. He hits a homerun playing both David and Walter: his performance is nuanced and precise. He manages to be both creepy and trustworthy, personifying something which is truly terrifying: something created by humans, in our own image, but which can supersede us. In playing both Walter and David, he distinguishes the two droids with tiny little nuances. A lesser actor may have made this distinction more cartoonish, but Fassbender’s performance ensures that, without even really knowing how, the audience will know when he’s David, and know when he’s Walter.
As a standalone film it is not perfect: it neither makes original thematic points, nor does it establish a distinct place within the franchise. It’s best enjoyed when viewed alongside the other instalments (and if you only want to watch one – go for the original), and is placed critically in the franchise’s timeline: after the recent prequel, and just before the beloved original. It answers some questions, and raises others. Of course, it’s setting up for another instalment, and I personally like to think that Scott has one more good Alien film left in him.