This review contains a discussion of some plot points from the film Alien: Covenant because it is a review and reviews do such things. Obviously. If this is going to cause you any degree of heartburn, it is unclear why you clicked on this piece titled "‘Alien: Covenant' Review" and you should probably stop reading now rather than firing off an angry email about spoilers.
Alien: Covenant is a film that's asking the big questions, the life-altering musings that only the greatest masters of cinema would attempt to tackle. Questions that have reverberated throughout the ages. Questions like: Where do we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? Why did the people making Prometheus hire Guy Pearce—in his mid-forties when the film was released—to play the wizened, ancient, age-spot-covered Peter Weyland?
I mean, let's be honest, it didn't make much sense at the time. Why would you hire Pearce—an undeniably fantastic actor, one who should be used much more frequently by Hollywood—to play someone 60 (or so) years older than he was at the time of filming? Was it just for the (admittedly cool) viral ad that never appeared in the film? Was it simply for his voice?
But no! That odd casting choice all makes sense as Alien: Covenant opens on Weyland, in his palatial home, surrounded by Biblical signifiers—Michelangelo's David; a painting of the Nativity—and his own creation: Weyland's David (Michael Fassbender). Here we see him explain just why he's so set on discovering who created humanity (and, by extension, Peter Weyland) and get a better understanding of why he funded the Prometheus mission in the first place.
The scene is amusing and well done and sets the tone for much of the rest of the film. Alien: Covenant is not only a welcome throwback to the roots of the series, it's also something like a two-hour cinematic explainer of Prometheus.
After the prelude at Manse Weyland, we skip ahead into the future, a few years after the disastrous Prometheus mission. A David-style robot named Walter (also Fassbender) awakens the hypersleeping crew when an ion storm (or some such thing) damages The Covenant, a colony ship taking 2,000 or so hypersleeping adults and a whole mess of embryos across the galaxy to settle a new planet.
Jolted awake in the midst of tragedy—one of the crew is shockingly killed during the accident—the survivors are somewhat flummoxed when they encounter a ghost transmission in the middle of deep space coming from a planet that is almost exactly like Earth. Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) and first mate Daniels (Katherine Waterston) lead an expeditionary force down to investigate, only to find a planet utterly devoid of animal life and a crashed ship—one that will look very familiar to those who remember the end of Prometheus.
Alien: Covenant is the prequel to Alien I imagine people thought they were getting when they heard about Prometheus. Whereas the 2012 film was a disappointing mess—a beautifully shot mishmash of pseudo-philosophical ramblings and body horror populated by some of the dumbest characters ever committed to celluloid—this weekend's film is far more satisfying, a reminder of the series' origins as a story about working stiffs caught up in something too horrifying to comprehend.
Danny McBride's Tennessee is the spiritual heir to Yaphet Kotto's Parker and Bill Paxton's Hudson—a bit uncouth but more or less competent, leavening the proceedings with a dash of humor and a working class sensibility. And the proceedings need a bit of leavening, given how terrifying they are: This is an Alien movie in the classic sense of the title, one with xenomorphs and neomorphs (think, albino xenomorphs by way of Pumpkinhead) and black goos and spores and all sorts of nasty things.
Those of you interested in the more intellectual side of life will find plenty to enjoy here, as well. As I wrote earlier, this feels a bit like an attempt to clean up some of the messes made by Prometheus (a healthy number of which were highlighted by the good folks at Red Letter Media five years ago). Fassbender's dueling turns as Cain and Abel—sorry, I mean David and Walter; seriously, this movie is littered with Biblical allusions—provide the background for many of the philosophical musings. David's madness aids us in understanding all the various oddities of Prometheus, providing the information in ways that never devolve into boring exposition dumps. It helps that Fassbender is, as always, quite charming.
As a result, Alien: Covenant achieves a far better balance than Prometheus and will, hopefully, hold up better to repeated viewings.