From the moment Prometheus ended, I couldn’t digest it. There was something too Frankenstein-esque about how the story seemed to shoehorn and then outright bolt things on to get into the Alien universe so Ridley Scott had an excuse to do a sequel that got us closer to the first Alien film and its events. In essence, Prometheus is the film that nobody needed. So where does Alien: Covenant sit after the rancour of the first prequel? More after the jump plus NSFW trailer.
It’s been ten years since the disaster of the Prometheus mission that claimed the lives of all on board. Or at least, that’s what the rest of the human race thinks happened to it. But humanity isn’t getting any smarter. The crew of the colony ship at the centre of the picture are no smarter than the last group of canon fodder. See, this is the fundamental problem of the film: the people on board are less intelligent than the crew of Alien or Prometheus if that’s possible. They are highly trained colonists who literally don’t know the first thing about colonising anywhere. Who sent these people out into the void? So for the rest of the film, we have to pray that somebody in the group grows a brain and a pair. Thankfully, someone does.
So it’s 2104 and the colony ship Covenant is on its way to Origae-6, a charted colony world, with 2,000 colonists in stasis and a number of embryos similarly stored. The crew is tended to by the synthetic android, Walter (Michael Fassbender), who not needing sleep can care for the ship and crew without rest. With a considerable amount of time left before reaching their destination, a nearby neutrino burst cripples the ship, kills a number of colonists and embryos as well as Captain Branson (cameo by James Franco). When the crew are back on their feet and repairs underway, chief pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride) picks up a transmission from a woman (Noomi Rapace) in a nearby star system. The signal is a planet which fits the profile the colonists need better than their intended target. The tempting target plus the crew’s need not to go back into stasis (they watched the captain be immolated in his pod) leads promoted Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) to divert to the new target over EO Daniels (Katherine Waterston) objections. They set down on this mysterious new planet but soon, an immersing threat wipes out their transport and almost gets them wiped out before David 8 (again Michael Fassbender), a survivor of the Prometheus mission, saves them and leads them to a ruined city full of corpses and an empty central city building. But if they thought they were safe and only needed to be picked up by the crew of the Covenant, they are so wrong.
Ridley Scott has an appalling record of coming off the track every couple of films (White Squall, A Good Year and The Counsellor) after a winning streak and Prometheus was his bad film from the 2010’s. But here, the cast and the director find themselves in perfect sync. Katherine Waterston, playing Daniels, is a very tough character who gets a bad feeling about everything to do with this excursion. Once things turn to crap, she switches into crew survival mode: the people who haven’t been killed by the spores need to get off the planet. Daniels deserves to be Final Character because she started acting like Final Character from the moment they set course for this dubious oasis. Oram is a deeply thoughtful man and his faith that he can see the crew across this test gets put through the ringer. He finds himself at odds with how his faith made sure he wasn’t first choice for captain. As a result, he’s looking for good news from this new planet over his EO’s official objection. Oddly, he meets his fate right around the point he starts taking the situation as dire as Daniels does. A man of faith and a woman who’s had her faith already shattered. Interesting leads and Waterston and Billy Crudup are both more than up to the task. The film, however, really belongs to Michael Fassbender. As both David and Walter, he shares screen time with himself and most of the time, his arch and plot details are revealed when he’s alone with himself. It’s a really amazing performance and I found his evolution of David to be very natural and organic. David is a flawed masterpiece and he is unhappy with that fact. Through experimentation, he was created by his father and through his own experimentation will his own creations reach perfection.
The planet the crew land on is not Paradise, far from it. Spores that are everywhere release a biogenic organism that grows into a lifeform that bursts from the host’s body in a violent and fatal manner. From there, the lifeform grows into an abomination that preys on the survivors. On top of that, the city David leads everyone to is more dangerous than the outside world. The crew die one by one from the planet, the neomorphs (which won the prize for nightmare fuel of the year in a film) and yes, our favourite acid bleeding creature. So far, so Damon Lindelof. But in one of the more respectful turns in the film, Ridley Scott has finally decided to invert the weird Erich von Däniken-inspired turns about the Engineers and how they created and visited humanity, blah-blah-blah, and turn it into something interesting. Prometheus was about how we thought ourselves the highest form of life but really, we knew very little and the gods that created us decided to punish us in spectacular fashion. Covenant has been made into a treatise of how left to our own devices, we are perfectly capable of doing to ourselves and others what the gods of old were known to do to lesser beings in capacious fashion. Here David, in his workshop under the city, has become the embodiment of his estranged and late creator Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) when he said: “We are the gods, now.” Every God starts out with the best of intentions. When David and the sleeping Elizabeth Shaw find the Engineers, David carries out his role as protector adequately but then falls spectacularly from grace. When we meet him again in Covenant, he is a fallen angel; angry at his creators and vengeful of their success. David has become our Ragnarok, our Götterdämmerung. When you put the future success of humanity in the hands of people like Peter Weyland, is it really so surprising that our creations turn against us?
Without giving away the ending, there’s a reference near the end of the film to Richard Wagner’s “Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla”. This is the overriding theme of the film and it’s what saves the film from being as boring as its predecessor: we are the gods and our creations have come to punish us. It’s a very Faustian idea if you think about it. We wanted to know who made us and why. Now we do and it’s trying to kill us. When the Covenant crew set down on the planet, they have no idea they’re players in a game set in motion ten years beforehand. So as they are picked off one by one, some of them deserve to die for sheer stupidity reasons and others die because Ridley Scott has his mojo back. Back when he created Alien, the main reason the Nostromo crew found themselves where they were was because of the Company (Weyland-Yutani). Here, he’s saying we are the company because we want the good life (the colonists) but don’t want the baggage that goes with it. We want to feel safe but we explore places that we know nothing about and then act shocked when something does try and kill us. We, in short, don’t deserve our place and we are about to meet a creature that will test our social soul as to what you can make when you don’t have a conscience about who lives and who dies.
Alien: Covenant is a flawed work in that its DNA can be traced to Prometheus but it’s starting to break away to form a new mythology within the universe it’s set in. If Scott keeps going, I’d love to see the next film in 2019 or 2020 and see if he can bridge this future third part with the beginnings of his first film in the series and meet himself at the halfway point. Only through experimentation can perfection be achieved. Just don’t call it a comeback yet.