The Alien film franchise has been up and down in its nearly 40-year existence. The high mark has always been Ridley Scott’s original film in 1979, but James Cameron did wonders with the story by adding pulse-pounding military action with 1986’s Aliens. But since then, there have been five films in the canon, and none have left as indelible a mark as the first two. In 2012, Scott came back to the franchise with Prometheus, a film that tried to explain the beginnings of the some of the concepts that Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett introduced in their story/script in 1979. Prometheus was a disappointment, to say the least, but Ridley Scott wasn’t finished with the franchise, and now he — and the Alien — are back with Alien: Covenant, and it is one of those rare films that makes every film in the franchise that came before it better.
Alien: Covenant is the story of a colonization vessel called Covenant, on its way to colonize an Earth-like planet. While the crew and its 2,000 colonists are in cryo-sleep, the ship is manned by an AI named Mother, and a synthetic named Walter (Michael Fassbender). The Covenant runs into trouble, which forces Walter to wake up the crew, lead by Oram (Billy Crudup), a devout religious man, and his second, Daniels (Katherine Waterston). Daniels is married to the captain of the Covenant, Branson (James Franco) who dies in his cryo-chamber during the mishap, and she doesn’t fully comply with her new commanding officer.
While out repairing the ship, Tennessee (Danny McBride), the ship’s pilot, picks up a distress call from an uncharted planet, and the crew of the Covenant discover that the planet is very much like Earth, so Oram makes the call to check it out, with he hopes of colonizing it instead of their intended destination, as the crew is leery of going back into cryo-sleep after what happened to Branson.
The majority of the crew, led by Oram and Daniels, head to the mysterious planet’s surface, where they find wheat fields and potable water, and some very Earth-like structures. Bad things begin to happen, and the crew is besieged by vicious xenomorphs, but are saved by another synthetic named David (Fassbender), the same David last seen with Elizabeth Shaw (an uncredited Noomi Rapace) at the end of Prometheus. David saves the crew from the monsters on the planet’s surface, taking them deep into a mysterious temple of the Engineers, but little does the crew know that the real monster is not outside the temple, but inside.
Alien: Covenant works to correct many of the illogical shortcomings of Prometheus, and even serves as the near-perfect segue into the events that the crew of the Nostromo encounter in 1979’s Alien. The script by John Logan and Dante Harper, from a story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green, does a wonderful job giving answers to questions that long-time Alien fans have had about the creatures. Ridley Scott did his best to further muddy those waters in 2012, but here, he seems to right the ship, connecting dots and making connections to every Alien film, including oft-chided Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection. And Alien: Covenant actually makes Prometheus better, by further fleshing out the story and fixing that films flaws.
It’s also important to note that many of Alien: Covenant’s early trailers are cut to look like a completely different film. I would strongly suggest that you forget them before you see this film, as the marketing department did Ridley Scott no favors in the promotion of Covenant.
While not an outright horror film, like the original Alien, Alien: Covenant has plenty of scares, thrills, and action, which brings it closer to the level of Cameron’s Aliens. In fact, I would say that Alien: Covenant is the best Alien film since 1986’s Aliens. Of course, as with most films like this, most of the problems and deaths come from smart people doing very stupid things. And that is a drawback in the storytelling. But besides this issue, which was also prevalent in the film Life from earlier this year, Alien: Covenant works to correct mistakes of earlier films, while still setting a course for new stories to be told up until the crew of the Nostromo discovers the derelict ship on planet LV-426, which introduces audiences to the H.R. Giger-designed Alien to begin with. And there is talk that Ridley Scott plans to make more Alien films until we get that iconic point in science fiction film history when John Hurt’s Kane looks at a strange egg a little too closely, and begins a ride of terror that has been rolling on for 40 years. If Alien: Covenant is any indication as to how they plan to do that, I cannot wait.
Alien: Covenant is rated R and is in theaters on May 19.
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