At times, 2012’s Prometheus seemed to be far more interested in its exploration of philosophy than in providing bone-chilling scares. By comparison, Alien: Covenant is at least a 60/40 split in favor of jumps and geysers of blood. But that nagging desire to explore the implications of the series – of creating something you can’t control, of barging into a place you have no business being, of whether God exists, and whether he’s malevolent or benevolent – draws me in long after my pulse has returned to normal.
Covenant takes place about 10 years after the Prometheus’ mission went horribly awry. This new mission, which includes several couples and few thousand frozen bodies and embryos, will colonize a distant planet. Even though the technology has been upgraded, there’s still a lot that can’t be accounted for. A storm knocks out a lot of the ship’s power, killing some of the crew. And a signal from a previously unknown planet proves too intriguing to ignore. As in every film in this saga, humans keep making the same mistakes.
After exploring the planet for the source of the signal, some of the crew inadvertently ingest tiny spores – mutations of the virus that brought out the aliens in Prometheus – which cause these invaders to pop out of any available flesh, not just the chest. These xenomorphs are faster and smarter, which makes them all the more terrifying.
In the terror, the remaining crew are rescued by David (Michael Fassbender), the android who survived the events of Prometheus along with Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and took up residence on this world, hoping for rescue. On this planet, David has taken his T.E. Lawrence obsession to new heights, conquering his own corner of the world. Fassbender is terrific as usual, but at a higher degree of difficulty, since he’s also playing Walter, the upgraded version of David, who doesn’t have the ability to create. It’s one of the movie’s many thought-provoking points to make us contemplate if that’s good or bad.
And that’s why Alien: Covenant is the rare summer blockbuster I wish were longer. There are so many ideas floating around here, but not all of them are fully fleshed out. I’m most intrigued by Billy Crudup’s character. He’s the captain of the ship and a self-identified man of faith who’s shaken when he encounters this horror that neither science nor religion can explain. Yet at the same time, that two-hour runtime means things never get bogged down.
Alien: Covenant harkens back to the effective Ten Little Indians vibe of the 1979 original. The scares are plentiful and the philosophy is still in its DNA. That makes it another essential chapter in this enduring franchise.