For nearly 40 years now, audiences have been terrified by the cinematic universe Sir Ridley Scott first brought to life in his brilliant Alien. We have been enraptured by the Xenomorphs and all their iterations through three sequels, two Predator-inclusive offshoot films and Scott’s previous effort, Prometheus, which took us even further back to the events that happened prior to Alien. With Alien: Covenant, Ridley looks to start bridging the mythologies established in both films, and overall finds moderate success.

While I definitely enjoyed Covenant more than its direct predecessor, I do feel like this latest entry into the Alien franchise loses focus in its third act, giving us more of the same and nearly squandering some of the really great stuff that precedes it. Alien: Covenant also suffers from a lack of defined secondary characters and some not-so-awesome CG creatures, but Michael Fassbender delivers yet another brilliant performance that makes Scott’s latest genre effort worth seeing.

Alien: Covenant starts off following the synthetic Walter (Fassbender), who has been tasked with keeping an eye on those aboard the colony vessel Covenant. They're heading to the distant planet of Origae-6, where the 2,000 passengers are hoping to establish a new human colony on the outskirts of the universe. On the way, though, the Covenant encounters a solar flare that damages the ship and kills some of the people on board. As the crew reconsiders their lengthy voyage to Origae-6, they come across another planet that seems idyllic for their needs and is much closer. Of course, once they arrive on the seemingly peaceful planet, things aren’t what they seem, and the crew of the Covenant must find a way to fight to survive against a deadly threat unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.

If you’ve watched any of the trailers released for Alien: Covenant, then it shouldn’t come as a big surprise to learn that this film plays into what we saw in Prometheus. It give us more answers to themes Scott played around with back in 2012, like how the human race ever began in the first place, how faith and science can co-exist, or getting existential answers from our creators—whether it’s the traditional idea of God (or other deities) or quite possibly an alien race, as Prometheus pondered. The big-picture conversations that Scott and his team of screenwriters pose in Covenant are intriguing and comprise the majority of what makes this latest Alien installment so interesting.

I was also particularly drawn in by Alien: Covenant’s utilization of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, which originally addressed the idea of crumbling civilizations and whether or not our legacies can ever truly live on beyond our deaths. If no one remembers us beyond our deaths, does that diminish our existence in any way? It’s some pretty heavy stuff that I quite enjoyed, particularly because I love sci-fi with a message on its mind. To go further in depth about how the concept of Ozymandias is applied in Alien: Covenant would venture into spoiler territory, but I must admit that it filled me with much geek-filled glee to see some parallels between the themes presented here and in Alan Moore’s Watchmen, which also incorporated elements of Shelley's poem.

As far as the characters of Alien: Covenant go, Scott has assembled a great group of actors, but sadly, he doesn’t give most of them anything to do, with a few exceptions. As mentioned, Fassbender once again delivers a performance (as both Walter and the android David) that’s some next-level stuff, easily stealing the movie right out from under everyone else. As far as the human characters go, both Katherine Waterston and Danny McBride get the lion’s share of the film's focus, but for good reason: they’re just so damned great here. That being said, the rest of the ensemble are given generally flatly written characters to portray, which wastes a lot of amazing potential from the likes of Billy Crudup (Almost Famous, Watchmen—ironically enough), Empire’s Jussie Smollett, Carmen Ejogo (Selma, The Purge: Anarchy), and the always brilliant Amy Seimetz (You’re Next, The Sacrament).

I know it’s unfair to make comparisons between Covenant and Alien, because every film should just be judged by its merits alone, but considering how well-conceived the entire batch of characters were in the 1979 film versus what we’ve seen in both Prometheus and now the franchise's latest cinematic chapter, it makes me pine for the days when I could invest in every character in an Alien film, and not just one or two of them.

On a visual level, Alien: Covenant is (as expected) stunning, with Scott once again delivering a movie that’s as bleakly beautiful as its subject matter. He relies on the talents of DP Dariusz Wolski (who has lensed The Crow, Dark City, and several of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies), with whom he’s frequently collaborated with over the last few years, including on Prometheus. That kind of continuity ensures that these two films feel very much like they’re cut from the same cloth, and there are some particularly jaw-dropping scene compositions in Covenant that feel like they’re straight out of a gallery—just absolutely gorgeous.

My biggest quibble with Covenant is that its third act feels weirdly rushed in comparison to the rest of the movie, with a finale that just seems a bit too “familiar” for me (there’s one interesting twist I was able to predict, but I still enjoyed the reveal all the same). I don’t know if I’m just being overly picky here, but I hoped for something more than what happens between the surviving passengers of the Covenant and the relentlessly savage creature that wants to make them its next meal.

Speaking of the Aliens themselves, some of Covenant’s CG elements are far more successful than others. While I absolutely dug the design of the Neomorphs (and how they are violently birthed, basically making a Chestburster’s arrival feel like nothing more than a glorified zit popping), some of their manipulations in the film feel cartoonish, especially in the scene when one of them is doing its damnedest to escape a room. I do think that the CG work with the Xenomorph is extraordinary, but I’m wondering if a lot of that has to do with the fact that Javier Botet did motion-capture performance work that gives the creature some extra weight that is missing from the Neomorphs.

That being said, I still enjoyed Alien: Covenant a lot more than Prometheus, and to discuss some of the specifics behind those feelings would result in a bunch of spoilers that I cannot include here. There’s no doubt that the strongest aspects of Covenant are the performances from Waterston, McBride, and Fassbender, and, of course, getting to see all the nastiness that comes from the crew’s encounters with Neomorphs, Xenomorphs, and a variety of other otherworldly entities they stumble across on the mysterious planet.

I’ll always show up at the theater for an Alien movie, because how could I possibly resist getting to revisit this world in a movie that is good, bad, or otherwise? I just can’t, and even if Covenant may not be the return to storytelling form that many of us had been hoping for out of someone with Ridley Scott’s talents, it’s still a fun time, even when it ventures into familiar territory (it works even better when it doesn’t).

Oh, and if every Alien movie features Fassbender from here on out, I’m absolutely cool with that.

Movie Score: 3.5/5

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.