With the Alien franchise on the verge of turning 40, it’s time to reassess how it has succeeded over the years. Ridley Scott’s original 1979 film and James Cameron’s sequel seven years later did a great job of fusing together science fiction and horror in unexpected ways. The next two sequels were pale in comparison, though they too had their moments.
With 2012’s Prometheus and now Alien: Covenant, Scott has gotten into the prequel business, building the story of how the world seen in the original film came to be. But since that essentially means detailing the history of the alien species, not the people who must combat them, the films need to deliver on the personal front in order to ensure that the horrors that inevitably await the humans have the desired impact.
Alien: Covenant centers on the crew of the titular spacecraft, who are in the middle of a long journey to colonize a new planet. A malfunction causes them to awake earlier than planned and, in a parallel to Alien, they receive a transmission from a nearby planet that seems to be as habitable as the one to which they had originally planned to go.
Any other details would venture into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that the planet is nowhere near as safe as they hoped. And the crew deciding to go to this planet, of all planets in the universe, is nowhere near as random as you might think.
The success of these prequels depends in how invested you might be in the Alien mythology. The beats of the story are highly familiar to fans — perhaps a bit too familiar — and so it’s the details that determine how good the film is. Scott and writers John Logan and Dante Harper do well in this regard for a while, but when it comes time to land it, things go off the rails.
Once the killings start the film feels like your standard horror movie, with each subsequent death having an air of predictability to it. The only element that elevates it is the relationship between two very similar characters, but the jousting between them turns tiresome after a while, too.
The cast, which includes Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Michael Fassbender, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, and others, is solid, but each seems to merely fulfill a certain type in the crew. The fault lies not in their acting abilities, but rather the way in which they are used.
You can never say that if you’ve seen one Alien, you’ve seen them all, but Alien: Covenant offers almost nothing you haven’t seen before. With two more prequels planned, Scott and company will have to up their game for those films to be worth a trip to the theater.