Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” was a dream come true for those in the long-term know: those of us, that is, who were informed of the prospect in ’79 when the likes of Famous Monsters of Filmland reported the director's plans for a prequel. That promised tale of the Engineer/"space-jockey" race, and how its members met their fate, seemed an intriguing one, but its delay long exceeded expectancy. The Engineers' cause, when finally revealed, startled many with its Christian references.
“Alien: Covenant”, as the “Prometheus” sequel has come to be known, picks up on its predecessor's inspiring and disturbing concepts. However, the story (by Michael Green; Dante Harper; John Logan; and Jack Paglen) concentrates more on rampaging H.R. Geiger offspring than theological essay: a tactic evidently used to appease those fans disenchanted by the previous film's spirituality. That's not to say "Covenant" is shallow, for it rehashes "Prometheus'" themes in its own, disquieting way, while still supplying multiple monsters.
Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw is but a shadow here, leaving Michael Fassbender's refurbished, Peter O'Toole-ish David to interact with the Weyland-Yutani colonists, who come upon a world that could be Paradise's equivalent.
Fassbender also surfaces as David's charismatic, Covenant "clone", Walter, but it's David who knows what's impacted the planet: an experimental unleashing of a black substance the Engineers concocted, something that's triggered a peculiar pact or merger (a covenant, if one will) with the landscape.
The crew includes (in addition to Walter and the nearly two thousand who remain hibernated) Captain Jake Branson (James Franco, in cameo); his wife Daniels/"Dany" (Katherine Waterston), a terraforming officer and this chapter's roundabout Ripley; Sergeant Lope (Demian Bichir), the security head; Sergeant Hallet (Nathaniel Dean), her husband; Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), a pious, accidental leader; Karen (Carmen Ejogo), his biologist spouse; Upworth (Callie Hernandez), the medic; Tennessee (Danny McBride), the prime pilot; and Faris (Amy Seimetz), his co-pilot wife. They're good people, interesting and well meaning, but have entered the wrong place at the wrong time, due to their shared ambition.
Once the obligatory introductions are made and the androids form a touching, though odd bond, the monsters position themselves for attack (in their various, progressing shapes, of course), but why did the Engineers set forth these horrid things? "Prometheus" proposed the question, but does "Covenant" answer it?
That's up for debate, for the interludes are sometimes more ambiguous than clear. Nevertheless, Scott's film alludes to the idea that some of the Engineers wished to punish the human race for harming one of their own, but was this victim a surrogate Christ--or the Christ--as Scott has mentioned in his "Prometheus" interviews? It appears another chapter is required to substantiate this theory. (Scott has gone on record, stating that "Covenant" is his way of returning to the series' traditional, terrifying roots, so perhaps the once intended religious extrapolation will be stripped for the sake of another entry.)
At least on an atmospheric level, the current film matches its predecessor, thanks to cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, who creates a visual revitalization of Mario Bava's "Planet of the Vampires"/"Demon Planet", with smoky blues and hazy grays to represent the egg-laden danger. The demons now look more freakish and frightening than before, coming and going among the weird pigments and baroque architecture.
One harrowing scene depicts a traditional Xenomorph atop a Covenant shuttle, grasping it like some elongated gremlin, in hopes of getting inside. The scene's visual composition is raw and unsettling because on an subconscious level, we know this sleek, lethal thing could very well have sprung from any of us, if only the vicious variables had allowed.
Writers Dan O'Bannon and Ron Shusett hatched the latter concept for the '79 film, along with some rape implications and the jarring effects that such physical violation brings. Given the chance, there's no telling how far such a mad cycle could go, but then we've already gotten a hardy hint via James Cameron's "Aliens".
Unlike the tough-as-nails Ripley, Daniels projects a caring, cautious side, which shines especially in her relationship with Walter. When push comes to shove, though, her fight for survival consumes any cordiality. In fact, most folks would sooner resign than battle the daunting circumstances she and her crew mates face.
Though the Xenomorphs are outwardly bestial, their symbolic seeds were planted with lofty care in "Prometheus". In fact, Guy Pearce's Peter Weyland (who set forth much of that film's conflict) speculates on humanity's content in "Covenant'"s flashback prologue, but even without this handy trigger, we'd still find ourselves pondering who and what we are.
The Engineers created humanity, but our inherent, recurring penchant for evil defiled that gracious gesture. The saga's serpents are simply our inner devils unleashed, hugging our faces and chest-bursting forth to punish us for our sins, just as Hyde dared to overcome Jekyll or Shelley's Monster dared shackle Frankenstein. If life was the Engineers' gift to us, then the Xenomorphs are our curse.
When the Covenant crew meets its fate, we realize there's no escaping our harbored evil. Once that ugliness is revealed, we are, in essence, preying upon ourselves: a shocking notion, but one any sinner should consider. Primal rage has never been alien to the human race, but rather something that's nurtured, encouraged, and as long as we live and breathe, we'll suffer its consequences. "Covenant" knows this, conveys this, and because of this, we come to learn that humans and their so-called aliens are (for better or worse) one and the same.