Earlier this year, people were posting a list on their Facebook pages about their film preferences. They were asked to identify their favorite dramas, action films, “bad movies,” and the like. One of the categories was “favorite franchise.” I nearly put the Alien franchise, but then I realized how inconsistent it has been since 1992. The films had done nothing new or exciting. The aliens were no longer shocking and the filmmakers had nothing to say. Between Resurrection, the two Alien vs Predator movies, and Prometheus, I was tired of the chest bursting and the phallic skulls.
Everyone had decided that we need to copy Aliens, which was a mistake. Yes, Aliens is a fine action film with some great characters (except Newt) but it’s also not what an Alien is supposed to be about. Alien is about hopelessness and fear. It’s about how anyone can be a victim and that the hero is more determined by circumstances than anything else. That’s why I like Alien 3. It had flaws but it still didn’t pretend like everyone was going to make it out alive. It also took time to hold a mirror up to society and point out how many people’s values and the institutions they depend on will ultimately betray them. The first film was about how corporations view blue-collar workers, the third was about religion and how it cannot be counted on to save or even redeem sinners.
The other films are about nothing except people being eaten by giant monsters. The exception was Prometheus, which tried to comment…why scientists shouldn’t do dumb things? Prometheus was ultimately a very confused movie that depended on the characters doing things that made no logical sense. The android David was the worst. He seemingly became the villain because he lost a bet and was obligated to. It wasn’t even a proper Alien film, playing coy with H.R. Giger inspired images and the Engineers to pretend like it was part of a different franchise.
Still, I liked Alien: Covenant when it was announced because I knew Ridley Scott was going to be honest with this film. He wouldn’t tease us with Alien imagery and then decide that, no, he didn’t want to make an Alien film after all. Alien: Covenant would not be able to get away with fooling anyone. Good or bad, it would be an Alien film. The only question that was left was, “will this be good?”
Thankfully, yes. Alien: Covenant isn’t perfect but it’s by far one of the best sequels to the original film.
One of the best things about Covenant is that it’s not dependent on the established Alien cannon. It works perfectly as its own separate film and does not depend on repeating the same tricks that the original films had. The film’s plot is similar to Prometheus. A crew on their way to a new planet to start a colony (the colonists are all in suspended animation) find an uncharted planet that may be habitable to human life. Only the android Walter (Michael Fassbender) is awake to maintain the ship. Due to an emergency, the crew awakens and the captain, Oram (Billy Crudup) decides to go visit it despite the objections from his first mate Daniels (Katherine Waterston). On the planet they discover David (also Fassbender) the android from Prometheus who is the same model as Walter. He’s has been stranded on the planet for ten years and has used that time to study mysterious alien creatures that are now threatening the crew.
This could be the plot to any ambitious science fiction movie. What makes this one an Alien film was that filmmakers realized audiences need to care about the characters again. The crew is all spouses, so when certain people start dying, the characters feel the loss. It also has more ideas than a simple monster movie. The first scene in the film is a discussion about the quest for God. The xenomorphs in this film explore the same things the Frankenstein monster did. Just because creatures can create the perfect organism doesn’t mean they should. The Xenomorphs are not just bug-eyed monsters anymore.
The film does have some connections to Prometheus, which are problematic at times. I was not interested in exploring those characters after that dull entry. But fortunately, Covenant uses the opportunity to address Prometheus’ shortcomings. For one, David finally works in this film. You’ll remember that one of my biggest complaints about Prometheus was the fact that David had no motivation. He switched from good to evil at the plot’s convenience. This film explores more about David’s motivations. He was an artificial being who was disappointed with his creator’s concept of God and the fact that the Engineers were the ones who had introduced life to Earth. He feels he’s in a position to do better with the xenomorphs. David was finally a character and not just a way to keep the plot moving forward. With Covenant, David becomes one of the most fascinating characters in the Alien franchise.
But every film has some issues and I don’t want to overlook the ones in Covenant. For one, the plot once again depends on characters doing stupid things. It’s not as blatant as in Prometheus and the plot does try to explain the crew’s inexperience with the situation they’re in. Still, would it kill them to wear helmets on a new planet? The captain is also incredibly gullible, especially with David. He sees David communicate with an alien and knows that he is doing experiments with them. But instead of destroying them, he somehow allows David to show him how deep his relationship with the aliens go, putting everyone in danger? I also guessed the big twist at the end. I can’t say that it wasn’t emotionally effective and presents a great set up for the next Alien film. It was only too obvious.
Alien: Covenant was the first Alien film in a long time that gave me hope about the future of the franchise. There are clearly new ideas that Ridley Scott wants to explore with the xenomorphs. Covenant is a film that offers glimmers of hope against a dark, hopeless backdrop. It’s what an Alien film is meant to be.