Let it never be said that these new Alien films are mere copies of the previous franchise. Although Alien: Covenant is deceptively similar in terms of plot to Ridley Scott’s first Alien film from nearly four decades ago, the similarities seem to serve as a disguise to hide away the main storyline. After the opening credits scene involving David talking to his creator for the first time, the film follows Alien’s plot almost point-by-point. The crew members of a ship flying through space wake up from their hypersleep much earlier than expected due to a malfunction. After discovering a signal broadcast from a nearby planet, the crew set out to investigate. Once they arrive at the planet, things go horribly wrong.
It’s so similar that it all becomes rather predictable, until we’re finally reunited with David to see what has transpired in the ten years since the events of Prometheus. Make no mistake: Alien: Covenant is very much a direct sequel to Prometheus, and the lead character of the latest film isn’t anyone from the new batch of characters. Despite being absent for most of the first act, David takes front and center once he reappears and all similarities to the first Alien film end.
What started out as yet another monster movie in the franchise shifts its focus to the synthetic android with a God complex. Created by Peter Weyland to serve man, David has evolved to have desires and ambitions of his own. Alien: Covenant aims to explore what Prometheus took a glancing interest in: that of David’s frustrations and outright contempt for his own creators. Moreover, it explores David’s fascination with the creation of life and how it empowers him. The scenes of David talking to his “brother” Walter are superb and engaging. Two androids discussing their purpose in life, with David trying to lead Walter to the path of enlightenment. David, who used to be a servant, is now a King, and he hopes that Walter can realize his own potential as well.
Michael Fassbender’s dual performance is, in a word, phenomenal. The stark difference between David’s mysterious worldliness and Walter’s benign compliance is an impressive feat of acting. Even though they wear different costumes throughout, I feel as though I can tell the difference between the two characters even if they were wearing identical costumes since Fassbender gives them such a distinct presence even when they’re not speaking. All this, I should add, is achieved without showing any emotion throughout the film.
The theme of creation is the driving force of this new franchise. Exploring the origins of an iconic alien monster has somehow lead to infusing philosophical discussions about the meaning of life and mankind’s purpose. If that sounds like a tall order for what started out as a horror monster movie, it is. Alien: Covenant and Prometheus delve just deep enough into its themes to bring up the intriguing questions and make you wonder, but neither one executes it in a satisfying manner.
Both films use this theme as a springboard to bring about gruesome entertainment. What was supposed to be used by the Engineers as a complex biological weapon to destroy mankind is used by David to experiment for his own creations. These creations then terrorize a bunch of hapless crew members as they fight for their lives. It’s a great storyline for an entertaining blockbuster, but its deeper implications are only hinted at, left out in the open to be pondered but not explored by the film itself. The audience’s need for a satisfying answer to the questions raised at the end of Prometheus are left unfulfilled by the sequel.
But is the answer as to why humanity was created by the Engineers supposed to be satisfying in the first place? It seems that the promise of an answer has been dashed with Elizabeth Shaw’s death. After all, she started this expedition in the first place and didn’t get an answer herself. Everyone who asked the question of why is now dead, so it’s difficult to imagine that future films in the franchise will bother to answer the question that started it all.
Still, it’s not often that big-budget blockbusters even bring up the kind of questions that this franchise has. Alien: Covenant has the distinct quality of having a villain as its lead character, and as the franchise moves forward with David at the center, where the franchise goes from here is a fascinating question full of exciting possibilities. David’s motivations and the implications of what an android with a God complex will do next now that he has more resources at his hand is a compelling prospect for a sequel to explore.