In a weird way Alien: Covenant feels a bit like a bait and switch. Over the last few months, it felt like the talking points surrounding Alien: Covenant were something like, “Well, we know you didn’t love Prometheus, so we are going back to basics and are just going to make a scary Alien movie.” And for the first act of Alien: Covenant, this is true.
When the second act starts, it’s such a dramatic shift in tone that it wouldn’t feel out of place for Ridley Scott to introduce it by saying, “Hey, everyone, thanks for coming. Look, I know I promised you an Alien movie, but the truth is I still have a lot left to say about Prometheus, so I hope you enjoyed the Alien-type opening, now sit back, relax, and get ready for Prometheus 2.”
Put it this way: If you ask me, “Do I need to see any of the prior Alien movies before I see Alien: Covenant?,” the answer is, yes, you need to see Prometheus. The film is set ten years after the events of Prometheus, and I had just kind of assumed that Alien: Covenant would be peppered here and there with references to Prometheus. I could not have been more wrong. Instead, they went all in.
The film is set in 2104 initially aboard the Covenant, a colonization spaceship with 2,000 sleeping civilians on board headed to a distant planet. The only conscious crew member is Walter (Michael Fassbander), an android just like David from Prometheus, only he speaks with an American accent. After a solar burst hits the ship, the crew is awakened to assess the damage. Not everyone’s sleeping pod opens successfully and the captain of the crew, also the husband of Daniels (Katherine Waterston), is burned alive, leaving Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge.
(It’s hard to tell who plays the doomed captain when he’s in the pod, but when Daniels is watching old videos of him, we learn it’s James Franco. This is an odd casting choice because a James Franco cameo in a movie usually brings a lot of laughter. And this was no different, as the audience I was in laughed and laughed while poor Daniels is tearing up remembering her dead husband.)