When Prometheus landed in theaters back in 2012, it was met with mixed reception. For some, it was a welcome return to the cult sci-fi universe that began with Alien in 1979 and almost destroyed it’s own fandom with Alien vs. Predator: Requiem in 2007. Following the release of that final film, directed by the Strause brothers, the Alien franchise went silent for the next four years while Fox decided what to do with it. After all, with each film made after James Cameron’s Aliens in 1990, both the quality and the box office numbers for the franchise seemed to dwindle. According to various sources there were all kinds of ideas being pitched from a possible fifth outing in the main series to another adventure in the not-so-well received Alien vs. Predator series. Then news hit that the directors of the most loved films in the series (Alien and Aliens) had been developing ideas behind closed doors for a prequel film, which would elaborate on the “space jockeys” from the original Alien and the origins of the Xenomorphs. After spending years in a dormant state, production finally started on a film that would later be titled Prometheus, directed by Ridley Scott and written by Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour, Doctor Strange) and Damon Lindelof (Star Trek, World War Z).
It cost Fox a total of $130 million to bring Ridley Scott’s ambitious project to life, which was shot using 3D cameras on almost all practical sets. While the film made a little over $400 million dollars in box office revenue, it created a divide among fans. Traditionally, the Alien films had revolved around xenomorphs (or aliens) of different types chasing people around space ships until only Sigourney Weaver remained. With Prometheus, director Ridley Scott got ambitious and sought to break away from the formulaic films of the past and explore some deeper themes, like where did mankind come from? Does God really exist? What happens when mankind rebels against their creator? The end result was a mixed box of science fiction, philosophy, intrigue and terror. After finally meeting their “creators” and finding out that they planned on destroying mankind, only two people remained, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and the android David, who flew off into space searching for the engineer’s home planet. I’ll admit that I’m probably one of the few film enthusiasts in the world that truly enjoyed that movie. To me, it added a layer of depth to a franchise that had become stagnant over the years. After all, how many times can you show aliens chasing people around before audiences grow tired of it. Unfortunately, Prometheus’s ambitious plot also proved to be its biggest problem, and that problem wasn’t exactly solved in the sequel Alien: Covenant as much it was lazily tossed aside for fan service and a setup for future entries.
Before you read any further, please know that there will be full spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie yet and are still planning to, watch the two videos below (they give some backstory), and then don’t read any of this until after you watch it.
The events of Alien: Covenant allegedly take place ten years after the ending of Prometheus. The film starts with the crew of a colonizing ship called Covenant, which is headed for a planet called Origae-6. Aboard the ship is the crew, an android named Walter (who is also played by Michael Fassbender), two thousand colonists in cryosleep, and a thousand embryos. When a neutrino burst damages the ship and kills some of the colonists, Walter (the ship’s AI played again by Michael Fassbender) hurries to wake the crew, but in the process, the ship’s captain, Branson (who is played by James Franco) ends up dying when his pod malfunctions and sets him on fire. The new Captain, Oram, feeling like the crew doesn’t respect him, decides to chase after a rogue transmission/distress call coming from a nearby planet that seems perfect for colonization. His only reasoning for this decision is that now that they’re awake, nobody wants to go back into cryosleep for the next eight years. The widow of the former Captain, Daniels, tries to dissuade him, saying that it’s “too good to be true” and par-for-the-course in Alien films it is. Instead of finishing the journey to Origae-6, Captain Oram readies an expedition team and sends them to the surface of the mysterious planet. That’s when the fun starts.
As it turns out, this planet belongs/belonged to the engineers, who by an act of fate (or a deranged android) are no longer around to maintain it. Even worse, the planet is full of microscopic spores that, if you come into contact with, will use your body to play host to the neomorph, which is basically a more refined version of the deacon that burst out of the engineer’s chest at the end of Prometheus. Unlike the xenomorphs, these creatures aren’t born from face huggers and they don’t always burst out of your chest. After a mishap involving a neomorph, a frantic mechanic, and Captain Oram’s wife, the drop ship explodes, leaving the rest of the expedition team stranded on the planet while the Covenant hovers above, unable to enter the atmosphere because of an atmospheric storm. Long story short, the android David appears to “save” them from other neomorphs only to attempt to pick them off himself, using the monsters he created by experimenting with the dark liquid that wreaked havoc on the crew of the Prometheus, the same dark liquid the engineers were going to use to wipe out mankind. He takes them to the city where the engineers came from, and where he and Elizabeth Shaw landed after the events of Prometheus. Much like the bodies encased in ash near Mount Vesuvius, the engineers’ bodies are all over the city in death poses. As it turns out David turned the engineers’ weapon against them, thus ruining what could have been a really cool storyline for the Alien franchise.
From there, we find out that David has been playing god, experimenting on the engineers, the floral life, and even Elizabeth Shaw, whom we see on a table mutated beyond human form with her organs harvested. In David’s temple of death, the very first face hugger eggs are revealed. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) one of the eggs opens up, and the face hugger inside attaches itself to Captain Oram. That’s when Alien: Covenant becomes your typical Alien movie. They run from the newly spawned Xenomorph, people die – two of them in the shower – and then the movie ends leaving only two survivors and an android that’s not the android they landed on the planet with. Okay, so there’s a lot more to the movie than that, but it would take several paragraphs (or pages) to get into the strange philosophies of an android thinking he’s a god and the fan service that basically killed what could have been a really great plot. Not even the movie did a great job of describing why these things happened.
When Ridley Scott first announced that he would be revisiting the Alien franchise to tell the story of how the xenomorphs came to be, nobody really knew what to expect. For years, fans and critics had been wondering who created the xenomorphs and who the space jockeys from the first film were. It was widely speculated that the space jockeys were the ones who created the xenomorphs, but as it turned out, they were only a small piece of their origins. It was in fact, David who created the xenomorphs, or at least set in motion the events that would lead to their perfection. This story was started in Prometheus and elaborated upon in Alien: Covenant, and it was told well. There weren’t many plot holes that can’t be covered up by whatever entries wait ahead. And the theme of mankind trying to play god by creating androids, and the androids realizing that they’ll outlive their masters, while not new in film, was explored with depth. There are even parts where you feel sorry for David. Themes aside, however, it was the cast that really pushed the film forward. Much like Prometheus, the movie had a lot of star power, including Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, and even a brief appearance by James Franco. And as always, Ridley Scott did a great job of mixing intrigue and suspense with moments of pure horror. However . . .
As a film reviewer, this is always my least favorite part to write. Unlike critics from publications like Variety, The New York Times or Rotten Tomato, I go into films wanting to like them. I make films – not big budget films – but I understand what goes into the craft. Knowing this, please don’t read the below comments and think I’m trying to be snobby. However, the bad things about Alien: Covenant far outweigh the good. While the film was entertaining and nostalgic, it was overall, somewhat disappointing. With Prometheus, Scott and his writing team took the franchise in a new and different direction. It might not have been as well received among fans and critics, but the potential was there. They opened up Pandora’s box, but in the follow up, they don’t show you what’s inside. Judging by various interviews featuring Ridley Scott and his team, there was a plan in place that would have continued the philosophic storyline of Prometheus, but they decided to give fans what they “wanted” by throwing it all out and returning to the roots of the franchise. After the ending of Prometheus, we were given the hope that we would see Elizabeth Shaw and David walking among the engineers and finding out why it was that they wanted to destroy mankind and what else they created. And I can’t be the only film enthusiast out there who was excited to witness that journey. Instead, Scott and company decided to appeal to the mindless bantering and complaints of modern filmgoers by returning to the blood and gore of the first films, while wrapping up all of Prometheus’s lingering questions in a two minute scene, thus writing the engineers out once and for all. Actually, they didn’t exactly answer the questions left by Prometheus as much as they destroyed any chance of having them answered. And for what? The payoff wasn’t exactly worth it. All they did was show us what we’ve seen six times before but in a different setting. Yes, it’s fun and horrifying to watch a xenomorph run around a space ship, picking off its crew, but we’ve seen it already. It’s been done. Prometheus took the franchise in a different direction and showed us something we’ve never seen while still incorporating elements that made the original films so good. In Alien: Covenant they traded story and depth for cheap thrills and a whole lot of blood.
I’m not going to recommend you watch Alien: Covenant, but I’m not going to not recommend you watch it either. I don’t regret seeing it, and if I weren’t reviewing it, I probably would have gone to see it anyway. However, it’s a film full of fan service and almost devolves the series as a whole. Prometheus took the franchise a step forward and Alien: Covenant took it several steps back. It’s fun, it’s entertaining, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. If reports are right and Ridley Scott is already gearing up to film the next entry in 2018, let’s hope he has something in store that will make this disappointment worthwhile. Alien: Covenant is the sequel the fans wanted, but it wasn’t the sequel they deserved.