In the age of prequels and sequels, it is hard to find quality films that can be part of a whole while also working well as standalone products. Alien: Covenant, the sixth installment of Ridley Scott’s revered Alien franchise, is one such film. As both a sequel to Prometheus and a prequel to 1979’s Alien, Covenant is a fascinating film that brings answers to questions posed in the other installments while remaining open-ended for the inevitable follow-up. Scott has created a rich and complex film in which fear reigns, action is first-rate, and above-average entertainment is, per usual, guaranteed.
The movie starts with a beautifully constructed sequence that traces the origins of the android David (Michael Fassbender). It is a thought-provoking scene that reintroduces some of the philosophical themes about creation posed by Prometheus. However, as the screen fades to black and the titles appear in a style that pays homage to the original title while Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic theme plays in the background, the audience knows they are in for a thrill ride. The film’s plot follows a familiar set up: a spaceship arrives from earth with a mission to colonize a planet, and is followed by a rogue signal from a nearby planet that changes its course. Once the crew lands in unknown territory the real movie starts, mixing some truly outstanding action sequences with deliciously gruesome horror scenes. This formula may not be overly original, but it remains effective. The franchise has come to be known for its creative death scenes, so it is always fun to see the ways it continues to top itself.
However, like many movies of its kind, Covenant has too many expendable supporting characters. There are times when a new face appears out of nowhere and the audience is left wondering if they have been there all along. Thus, it is hard to truly care about anyone in the film, which diminishes the impact of the characters’ expected demises. To say that Danny McBride – who is known for a slew of trashy comedies – is one of the few standout actors in the film hints at the lack of characterization the other characters are given, and he receives this credit simply because he has more screen time than other characters. Likewise, there is no clear lead for the audience to root for. Michael Fassbender, in a masterfully crafted dual performance as the androids Walter and David, received top billing, but he is not the protagonist. That title technically rests on Daniels, played by an always resourceful and resolute Katherine Waterston. However, the lack of backstory and depth given to her character makes it hard for the audience to sympathize with her.
Despite these fallbacks, the film looks gorgeous, with bleak cinematography that perfectly captures the inhospitable environment in which our heroes find themselves. The production values are top-notch and the special effects remain outstanding; the design of the iconic xenomorph is as hair-raising as ever. There are times when Jed Kurzel’s score soars and adds to what is happening on screen, while others times it monotonously rests in the background, making the final product adequate at best. Editing-wise, the film flows smoothly from scene to scene, but reaches an abrupt halt as it reaches the third act. This sequence is dialogue-filled and more cerebral, and though honestly fascinating and probably necessary, it slows down the entire picture only to be followed by the usually nerve-wracking climactic conformation. As a result, the change of pace in the finale sharply contrasts with what immediately came before it, which may be disorienting to some. Similarly, the final reveal, though unexpected, is not handled effectively, making the audience wonder where exactly the franchise will progress.
Overall, Covenant is a satisfying sixth entry in the Alien franchise whose many twists and turns make for an entertaining time at the cinema. However, unlike many big-budget action films, Covenant is quality entertainment because action is not the main focus, but rather a means to arrive at more profound themes about life and the human condition. With an expert veteran at the helm, the film is worthwhile and constantly engaging, but above all it is an enjoyable, exhilarating experience.