The 2012 film Prometheus was director Ridley Scott’s unofficial prequel to his masterpiece Alien. In the film he also took certain liberties since he was not tied down by any specific franchise lore; this led to an exploration on the origins of humanity and of the power of creation. While the final product of Prometheus didn’t rise to its original ambitious standards, it was a box office success; this led Fox to fund Scott’s next iteration: Alien: Covenant. Covenant is a sequel to Prometheus, but still is considered a prequel to the 1979 (take a while to wrap your head around that).
Alien: Covenant follows the spaceship “Covenant” as its’ crew travels in hyper-sleep looking to colonize a new designated planet. After a solar wave messes up with the crew’s sleep-pods the captain (James Franco) perishes, while everyone else is woken up. The new captain, Oram (Billy Crudup) is insecure and uncharismatic, and after the crew receives a transmission from a nearby habitable planet, Oram makes a split decision to settle his demoralized crew on this new planet instead. But of course, this new world isn’t what it seems.
Scott is an incredibly visual director; he’s able to portray his imagination on the screen like few can in Hollywood today. This is very apparent in Covenant, and yet the film is weighed down by some of the same problems that Prometheussuffered from. One of these problems was the large amount of time dedicated to the set up of the new characters, creature, and the world that we had already supposedly visited in Prometheus. While this is incredibly fascinating to watch – seeing the usual procedures of these space explorers slowly abandoned with each consecutive catastrophe – it does lead to a sense of impatience as the audience searches for and expects a big payoff. The second drawback was more with the marketing department; this film was pitted as a Xenomorph heavy film, with the black creature making a prominent appearance in all the promotional materials, however, we only meet it in the last act of the film, and even then it’s only for a handful of scenes. The third problem was with the style that Scott has accustomed us to (so it might be a bit unfair of me to place this as criticism). What I’m referring to is: tension. Scott was masterful in the use of suspense in the first Alienfilm, and had even infused that tone in certain parts of Prometheus. In Covenant however, we are treated to more of a gore-fest, and we see as the great director ends up relying more on slime and cheap jump-scares to captivate its audience than the show-don’t-tell style that worked so well in the original.
Scott does rack up another great cast, though, with the returning Michael Fassbender who plays another android, as he did on Prometheus. Fassbender was the standout in the previous film, and he is so again in Covenant, his other cast members, amongst them Katherine Waterston as the new female lead, do well in roles than although intriguing, never reach the mythical heights of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.
The problem with Covenant might be that Prometheus and Alien, although similar, were not very compatible. We see Ridley struggle between his continued exploration of existentialism, and the need to give the audience some Xenomorph action or beasts bursting from his cast’s chest. There are probably two great films in here, but mixed together we get a watered down version of both that seems more like a wasted opportunity.