Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz
Director: Ridley Scott
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Rating: R for the Usual Chest-Bursting Shenanigans
Release Date: May 19, 2017
When horror movies are successful enough to merit sequels, the follow-ups can either repeat the same scares or expand the mythology. They usually do both, with the latter generally growing in prominence as the series drags on, with the diminishing returns on the former become clearer and clearer. (They can also try to summon entirely new scares, but that is one of the most difficult tasks in all of moviemaking.) Ridley Scott’s Alien is pure horror, despite its sci-fi setting. When other directors took over for the first batch of sequels, their genres may have tended more towards action, but the mythology certainly blew out as well, what with cloning Ripley and hurtling hundreds of year into the future.
Now that Scott has taken back the reins, he has apparently decided that if crazy ideas are going to be the name of the day, he might as well underpin the franchise with his own peculiar philosophizing. Because otherwise, this would just be a rehash of intrepid spacefarers treading too far on the edge and getting ripped apart by lethally invasive extraterrestrials. That approach is not necessarily terrible, and Alien: Covenant does not avoid it entirely. Chest-bursting can no longer be as iconic as it was the first time, but it still packs a sickening kick, and there are other body parts to slice off and wear away with acid blood. And there are also some larger-scale action sequences, demonstrating Scott’s still vibrant eye for scale and knack for properly calibrating tension.
But Covenant truly excels when it gets weird. It bridges the gap, both temporally and thematically, between the original Alien and 2012 prequel Prometheus. The latter film started to answer the question of what made the original attack on the Nostromo possible, a question that nobody really ever asked. Covenant continues to answer the question, and while it is still unnecessary, the backstory on display is fascinating enough to justify itself.
The actors playing the human crew of the Covenant fulfill their duties, but it is android Michael Fassbender who is pulling the strings. Prometheus and Covenant are explicitly about creation myths and the limits of human ambition, and these fundamental themes of existence are represented and mercilessly toyed with by humanoid beings created by humans. Certain revelations come out squarely tsk-tsking against hubris, while other moments are more impenetrable with their messages. But that is no criticism. Traversing across the universe should be stunning, humbling, and mysterious, perhaps even to the point of incomprehensibility. What is the purpose, for example, of Fassbender teaching himself to play the flute? I cannot genuinely say that I know, except that it makes Alien: Covenant unforgettable.
Alien: Covenant is Recommended If You Like: Prometheus But Wish It Had Been Better, Even If You Thought It Was Good
Grade: 4 out of 5 Fingers