Ridley Scott’s latest makes fan service a priority by answering some long-held questions about the Alien universe
The first trailer for Alien: Covenant, the sequel to 2012’s Prometheus and second prequel to 1979’s Alien was, essentially, a two-minute bloodbath. For those disappointed by Prometheus’s focus on the origin of the species – and its scant sightings of actual Alien aliens as we know them – the message was clear: more baddies, more explosions, more more more.
There was no false advertising. Alien: Covenant, the third to be directed by series originator Ridley Scott, makes fan service a priority. We join the crew of the Covenant, a colony ship sending a cargo of frozen humans to an Earth-like planet to establish a new society, taking an ill-advised diversion to an uncharted world. They land to find they’re in an extreme version of The Island With Bear Grylls, a rain-sodden planet showing evidence of a Pompeii-like cataclysm now inhabited by aliens, sinister spores and Michael Fassbender’s messianic android, David. Don’t drink the water, you think, yet those spores get around anyway and aliens – proper, mouth-in-mouth, helmet-head, HR Giger mo-fos – are born, and everything gets flesh-flappy and gun-happy as a result.
So that’s the bit that echoes James Cameron’s lauded 1986 sequel Aliens, but thanks to the gnomic David, threads are drawn connecting Prometheus’s tangential plot to the Alien cannon, and there’s a single-alien-on-board situation that echoes the hunter-prey tension of the first installment (set 20-ish years after Covenant), too. There’s no reprieve for 1997’s Alien Resurrection or the Alien vs. Predator movies of the 2000s, happily.
So in many ways, Alien: Covenant follows the format of the new Star Wars films and Jurassic World – sequels with a smack of the remake about them, but bigger, shinier and sexier. There’s strong female lead in Katherine Waterson, a ship that looks like the Industrial Zone of The Crystal Maze, a crew of dispensable individuals in space overalls who meet gag reflex-inducing deaths. And there is a chest-burster that makes the one in Alien look like a rogue sock puppet.
In Ridley Scott’s hands, though, you still feel like you’re watching something of great quality, and its prevailing subtexts – creation myths, God complexes, evolution theory – answer some long-held questions about the Alien universe. If you’ve ever enjoyed an Alien film, this one is worth spending two hours in space for.