As a milky-white gross-beast skitters its way around a wheat field, getting murder-death all over gun-toting space colonists, the only question becomes whether Alien: Covenant deserves a place near director Ridley Scott’s original Alien in the pantheon of perfect sci-fi horror. Oh, calm your toothy tongues, it doesn’t. But it is a violently entertaining, pathologically great bit of tension rife with room for philosophical-religious and modern social interpretation. Also, you only pay for one Michael Fassbender, but you get two Fassbendii. That’s a quality return on investment.
Picking up after the unreasonably nit-picked and unfairly maligned Prometheus, Covenant follows a ship filled with interstellar colonizers, ready to spread our filthy humanity across the stars. A solar flare results in unexpected casualties and leaves “mildly incompetent guy from accounts payable who wants you to join his bible study,” Oram (Billy Crudup), in charge of the mission. He promptly decides to follow a signal to an unexplored planet, a decision that has never once ended well.
Despite objections from Oram’s second-in-command, the Ripley-analog Daniels (Katherine Waterston), a planetary excursion discovers David (Fassbender), the android from Prometheus, who has gone full robo-bonkers. David immediately barfs his crazy all over fellow robot and Fassbender, Walter. As the secrets of David’s decade on the planet emerge, so too does the chest-bursting, bowel-displaying xenomorph body count.
Detractors have called Covenant boring, which is as perplexingly unsupportable as a GOP vote in the upcoming midterm elections. After the obligatory first hour of ratcheting “uh oh,” the second hour is nonstop bloody bedlam. What’s more, the new mythology of the Alien franchise deepens, creating a perverse cycle of creation begetting destruction begetting creation begetting destruction. The film even finds time to offer fodder for those rightfully appalled by real-life masculine discussions of women’s bodies as mere “hosts” for breeding purposes, and slyly makes the artwork of Alien creature designer, H.R. Giger, a part of the narrative’s canon.
Covenant has two flaws: a “no duh” attempt at a surprise twist ending and the unneeded (and counter-to-its-feminist-core) inclusion of the series’ first nude ladybits. But considering the legion of complaints lodged against Prometheus before this and the groundswell of griping facing Covenant so far, let’s make this defense a little more full-throated. Not only does the film contain a legitimate “holy [your favorite expletive here]” sequence recounting David’s arrival to the planet, it also hits all the Alien staples while advancing into deliriously insane new territory.
The guy who gave us Blade Runner wrestles deeper with the metaphysical underpinnings of artificial intelligence while fearlessly including intentionally awkward beats of horror comedy, tossing out body horror from every orifice and hinting at a grander question about the danger humanity poses to all of existence. It’s a slam-bang sci-fi thriller littered with a bizarre assortment of great moments filled with grand weirdness. Covenant is goofy, scary, ballsy and thoroughly satisfying, and if that’s not what you consider a “true Alien movie,” your definition needs revision and reflection.
This review previously appeared in The Reader of Omaha, Nebraska.