Alien: Covenant is good. Alien: Covenant is so good that it will make you forget you ever had doubt Ridley Scott could ever make any more good Alien movies. Alien: Covenant is so wonderfully, spectacularly, fucking edge-of-your-seat good that you will feel guilty if you get up to use the restroom at any point during the film, like you’re committing some cinematic act of treason by squandering any precious seconds or moments away from it. Did I mention it’s good?
This is quite the feat, because prequels are difficult territory, especially sequels to prequels for a franchise that never needed prequels to begin with. When the first Alien came out in 1979, audiences weren’t leaving the theaters thinking “you know that Ellen Ripley is quite the badass, but what I really want to know are the backstory and motivations about the alien with a acid-filled twinkie for a head.” The first four Alien movies pretty much covered all the ground there was to cover with Ripley and the Xenomorphs, so Ridley Scott started looking back to the origin of how this whole universe he started came to be. The problem, though, is that Scott was giving answers that nobody ever had questions for, making it so his answers would never be truly satisfying.
Not surprisingly, the origin/creation stuff behind Alien: Covenant and its predecessor Prometheus are the weakest parts of both movies, making the Alien mythos more murky than that disastrous black goo. There’s some thought-provoking stuff about artificial intelligence and creationism and things of that nature, but when the final answer behind everything is revealed, the origin of the Xenomorphs and the origin of all the Alien movies after it, the only thing I could do is say: “really?”
But that’s really side note stuff, because Alien: Covenant is thrilling. It combines the close-quarter terror of the first Alien and the shoot-em-up, all-hands-on-deck action of James Cameron’s Aliens. The mood is set for the film in the first five minutes, where we immediately give our trust to Ridley and let him take us on this journey. It looks pristine and polished but isn’t afraid to get itself dirty. Its score haunts you with every slow, vibrating note. It has no significant leaps in visual effects, but shows why some cinematic parlor tricks stand the test of time.
Just like the Greek god Prometheus gave fire to the humans, Ridley’s biggest gift to moviegoers in this film are the nighttime scenes lit by flames, where characters confess their regrets shortly before terrifying creatures spring forth from the darkness. There’s really only five memorable characters throughout the whole movie: Daniels (Katherine Waterston), Tennessee (Danny McBride), David (Michael Fassbender’s android from Prometheus), Walter (a new Fassbender android who was designed to be less of a fuck up than David) and Oram (Billy Zane), the reluctant, ill-equipped captain who pretty much dooms everyone with his incompetence. Waterston channels some true Ellen Ripley-levels of heroism when going toe-to-toe with Xenomorphs, and McBride pretty much plays his usual tells-it-like-it-is, blue-collar type character, which is all we really want from him.
The twists are predictable, and you really can see everything coming from a mile away. But it doesn’t matter, because Alien: Covenant feels like a true Alien movie. I knew when to cover my ears before a facehugger showed up and was on the edge of my seat when crew members decided to hold their own against Xenomorphs. It quite literally got me moving, more than any action, sci-fi or horror film for that matter in recent memory. I can’t wait to see it again.