By Vincent Abbatecola
In 1979, director Ridley Scott gave us his masterwork of sci-fi horror with “Alien. Following a story of an extraterrestrial that terrorizes a spacecraft and picks off its crew one by one, Scott utilized a claustrophobic setting, a simple, yet chilling premise, and a legendary performance from Sigourney Weaver to deliver a film that had viewers on edge.
He returned to the franchise 33 years later to direct “Prometheus,” the first installment in a prequel series. While flawed, it introduced some fascinating aspects to the mythology that gave the possibility of revealing the mystery of the titular aliens, or “xenomorphs.” With reliably stunning visuals, some cool gross-out moments, and a mesmerizing dual performance from Michael Fassbender, Scott continues the “Alien” series with the chills and thrills we’ve come to expect from these films.
In 2104, the space shuttle “Covenant” is carrying a crew of 15, along with 2,000 colonists and 1,000 embryos on board, all with the hopes of starting a new life on the distant planet of Origae-6. When the crew receives a radio transmission from an unknown planet, they change their course to investigate. While exploring, they realize there’s a danger within their surroundings the likes of which they have never encountered before.
Katherine Waterston’s lead role as Daniels isn’t as memorable of a character as Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, but she does what she can with the role, even though she doesn’t get to do much that’s noteworthy until the final half hour, when she’s given the chance to go into full Ellen-Ripley mode. Given what we see of Daniels in her best scenes, it’s a character I hope Scott brings back for the next film in the series.
As was the case with “Prometheus,” Michael Fassbender is the best part of this film. He offers a masterful dual-performance as Walter, an android assisting the “Covenant” crew, and David, an android who assisted the crew aboard the “Prometheus.” As Walter, Fassbender channels the likes of Lance Henriksen, who portrayed android Bishop in “Aliens,” practically replicating his voice and also bringing back the unsettling persona of David. Fassbender succeeds in distinguishing the two characters with their speech patterns and identities, speaking volumes to his talents by being able to take two similar-looking characters and make them very different from each other. One of the best parts of the film is when Walter and David share a scene where the latter teaches the former how to play music, and to see these two characters in a scene all to themselves and having a gifted actor command the entirety of it helps solidify Fassbender as a new highlight of this series.
Although we don’t get to know the rest of the “Covenant” crew that well, as almost all of them end up being canon fodder anyway, I will say that Danny McBride, who plays the chief pilot, is a standout because he doesn’t bring his typical stoner-buddy persona to the film, but instead stays rather grounded and keeps his comedic sensibilities to a minimum.
The cinematography from Dariusz Wolski, who lensed “Prometheus” and Scott’s last film, “The Martian,” offers majestic imagery of the vastness of space and the geography of the uncharted planet where the crew members find themselves. Scott has gone from the suffocating and closed-in setting of the space station in “Alien” to the expansiveness of Origae-6, and the camerawork captures every bit of the territory’s beautifully ominous surroundings.
“Prometheus” asked many questions about the events that came before “Alien,” and in “Covenant,” the screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper begins to answer them and does well with going more in-depth with the background of the horrific xenomorphs and how they came to be. And the chilling conclusion they craft will get you hooked for whatever comes next, even though the set-up that occurs about 20 minutes before the end of the film pretty much telegraphs what’s going to happen.
Ridley Scott does well in employing a leisurely pace for the film. Yes, he gives us some noteworthy gross-out moments and much-anticipated appearances from the xenomorphs, but he takes his time in establishing the setting before bringing in the frights, which is a similar approach he displayed for the original “Alien.” As a whole, he gives us a blend of his scares we saw in “Alien” and some of the action-movie qualities we saw in James Cameron’s “Aliens,”and it works because, although this film doesn’t quite reach the high standards of those two installments, it succeeds in bringing together what we loved from those high points in the series, while also doing well in moving the prequel trilogy further.
With “Alien: Covenant” showing that Scott still has enough vision to offer this series, I’m sure the next chapter in his prequel series will bring more of the deep-space terror he conjured all of those decades ago.
Final Grade: B