Alien: Covenant sees Ridley Scott successfully creating a sequel to Prometheus and the prequel people wanted Prometheus to be to Alien, all while pretty much declaring he doesn’t really care about the titular Aliens.
The opening scene of Alien: Covenant is a long conversation between two men, well a man and his robot. Michael Fassbender’s David (from Prometheus) and Guy Pearce’s Peter Weyland are having their first conversation post David’s activation and the synthetic is shown to have quickly become a figure who questions his maker and their vulnerability as a species. It also establishes this is where Ridley Scott’s real interests lie for this new prequel series, the journey of David.
The Alien franchise is simply just that, a franchise, and Scott is revealed to have quite brilliantly found a way to use this genre staple he created to be a backdoor delivery system for a conversation about AI and how it might view humanity. Yes, Alien: Covenant (and Prometheus before) delivers some solid, fun genre set pieces, the finale working the best if I say so, but the most interesting scenes are the ones with Michael Fassbender in it, especially when he is in the role of David. That’s right, you get two Fassbender’s in this film and he is quite excellent in both parts. David enters the story about halfway through, but Fassbender also plays Walter; the synthetic aboard the Covenant colonizing ship our batch of xenomorph bait humans hail from in this film.
Sadly, the weakest element of the film is that human element, as Scott seems far more interested in exploring Fassbender’s roles versus the humans. The actors are quite good around Fassbender, and they deliver some quite good performances, but we never really connect with them, we just have fun watching them walk towards their deaths. Billy Crudup, always great, is excellent here playing a captain in over his head and he actually gets the most fleshing out of anyone of the crew. Katherine Waterston plays the Ripley proxy here, and while she is good, and quite the formidable presence in the later action scenes, her character doesn’t get enough service. I would have loved more about her relationship with Walter, more than a scene of her watching a video of her husband (James Franco), anything to make us connect with her more. Waterston and Danny McBride have a convincing chemistry, but I wish we got to see this crew pre-cryosleep (YouTube prologues don’t count) as we never really get to feel their bond as they are thrown immediately into crisis. Crudup’s character is the only one who benefited from this scenario. I also wish we got more Amy Seimetz (Upstream Color!) and Demián Bichir is almost entirely wasted.
But this is the Michael Fassbender show and boy does he absolutely kill it. He is just so damn captivating as David, and Walter, and he delivers two perfectly distinct performances while also drawing connections to each other all the same. I can’t get too spoilery, but Fassbender sells every bit of the connection this film makes to the original Alien, while being hilarious and creepy almost simultaneously. Fassbender is asked to do play some beats that, if mishandled, could have brought the movie tumbling down, but he nails the perfect tone for every line/scene he is in. It’s a remarkable performance.
Scott has also clearly not lost his chops either, crafting another gorgeous movie and delivering creepy horror and solid action whenever he wants to play to the genre stuff he has a his fingertips. A couple CG shots could have looked a little better, but he continues to find new ways to make the aliens in this film creepy and intimidating after six films.
Alien: Covenant is kind of astonishing. It gives us a satisfying sequel for us Prometheus fans, while also creating a great little prequel to Alien all the same. Michael Fassbender continues to be one of the best actors to watch today and Scott will remain a filmmaker to watch until he probably kicks the bucket shooting his 4th Alien prequel. If you are in on David as a character, you will find a lot to like in Alien: Covenant, if you are just in it for the aliens, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed either.