Back in 2014 director Ridley Scott, speaking about the Alien franchise in the wake of 2012’s Prometheus, said he was done with the monsters. “There’s only so much snarling you can do. I think you’ve got to come back with something more interesting.”
Fortunately he changed his mind.
The sixth in the series (assuming you don’t count the two misguided Alien vs. Predator flicks) takes things back to the chest-bursting days of yore, particularly welcome after the plodding, largely heady Prometheus. Fans of the series want to see facehuggers. And Alien: Covenant delivers.
Picking up ten years after the events of its predecessor, it begins (after a brief, unnecessary prologue) in 2104 as the spaceship Covenant hurtles through space with 2,000 hibernating colonists. Also on board is a stash of embryos under the supervision of Walter (Michael Fassbender), the twin android “brother” of Prometheus’ David. The ship is years from its destination planet Origae-6 when a stellar flare causes a catastrophic malfunction, killing some of the colonists along with the ship’s captain (played by James Franco in perhaps the smallest cameo ever). When the crew picks up human communication from a nearby planet, they decide to divert and head there instead.
They arrive to find the remains of the ship David and Elizabeth Shaw piloted in Prometheus but no other signs of life. Within a few minutes, though, two of the crew become infected with alien spores, and that’s all it takes for Covenant to kick into gear.
The space terror and bloody mayhem that has defined the Alien franchise is back with a vengeance, as if Scott wants to not only make up for lost time but completely make it clear that his 2014 comments were dead wrong. That’s not to say that Covenant isn’t largely just more of the same-old-same-old “alien in space” genre (last seen in March’s Life); you can start a pool betting which crew members get picked off by the monsters in which order. But there’s plenty of other things going on to add some intrigue and keep things interesting.
The screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper offers up some nice surprises along the way, including a few brilliant scenes of Fassbender sharing the screen with himself as both Walter and David. And the rest of the cast is at the top of its game, too, including Katherine Waterston as the de facto leader (once everyone else starts ending up dead) and Danny McBride, brilliant as the chief pilot.
In Scott’s capable hands (even as he’s pushing 80), Alien: Covenant thrills and scares and offers up plenty of summertime monster fun. It’s a welcome return to the old-school days of Alien and its 1986 sequel– just as it should be.