Alien: Covenant is a stronger, scarier outing for the Xenomorph than its ponderous predecessor Prometheus, capturing the spirit of the original Alien
2017’s Alien: Covenant may not have been the franchise’s most financially successful outing, but the 2017 movie is a stronger Alien prequel than its predecessor, 2012’s Prometheus. Released in 1979, future Blade Runner director Ridley Scott’s Alien was a surprise hit with audiences and critics alike. Alongside Halloween helmer John Carpenter The Thing and the later action horror hit Predator, the “haunted house in space” sci-fi horror Alien was soon considered a formative classic of the sci-fi horror sub-genre and went on to spawn numerous sequels (as well as countless rip-offs) in the coming decades.
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However, while The Terminator director James Cameron’s 1986 hit Aliens won acclaim thanks to adding more action in the original movie’s claustrophobic horror, the later Alien sequels were not quite as well-loved. Despite boasting a young David Fincher as its director, 1990’s Alien 3 was critically panned upon release, and Alien: Resurrection was a divisive fourth film for the franchise. Meanwhile, 2004’s face-off film Alien Vs Predator and its 2007 sequel Requiem were widely considered to be a low point for both series involved in the crossover.
As such, the news that Scott was returning to the Alien franchise to direct a long-delayed prequel in 2012 was an exciting development for fans of the series—which made the eventual arrival of Prometheus all the more disappointing. Bloated and unfocused, Prometheus was a victim of its hype and ambition that failed to marry gory body horror and attempts at thoughtful philosophical lore with grace or style, instead opting to throw the disparate elements together and hope they might coalesce to no avail. Although Prometheus had its moments (Michael Fassbender stole the show with his turn as an android firmly inhabiting the creepiest end of the uncanny valley) and performed impressively at the box office, among critics the prequel was mostly viewed as a let-down for fans who were expecting a follow-up that could match the intensity of Alien and large-scale horror of Aliens. However, Scott’s next installment Alien: Covenant was an unheralded return to form and, while the Prometheus sequel always had its work cut out, the 2017 release remains a stronger, more focused prequel that is true to the spirit of the original Alien.
Covenant Has Less (& Easier-To-Follow) Backstory
Everyone watching Alien for the first time was curious about what the strange, unexplained giant extraterrestrial corpse seen early on in the movie’s action is, and for decades theories about the so-called “space jockey” abounded throughout the franchise’s sizable fandom. However, a haunting image does not a compelling story make, and dwelling on the particulars of how the pilot ended up in the chamber full of Xenomorph eggs was a waste of Prometheus’ screen time. Like the similarly slow Alien Vs Predator, the movie’s draggy plot was bogged down by Alien franchise lore, with Prometheus attempting to explain the role that the Pilot’s species, the Engineers, played in the origin of the universe and humanity — concepts a bit too ambitious and existential for a movie whose chief selling point is the presence of some killer aliens. In contrast, from the outset the smaller-scale Alien: Covenant was interested in introducing its small cast of characters, introducing new and strange monsters that riff on the titular Xenomorph, and then letting the magic happen. With limited backstory told in one or two brief creepy monologues from David, compared to its pseudo-philosophical predecessor Alien: Covenant is a ruthlessly efficient scare machine.
Covenant Has Original Deaths (& Lots Of Them)
Prometheus gave viewers one memorably nasty moment of gore with the heroine desperately attempting to remove a rapidly growing Xenomorph from inside her before the monster claims her life upon its gruesome exit. However, despite the tension of the scene, the attempt proved successful and Elizabeth Shaw survived (only to suffer a far worse death before Covenant). However, despite the Alien franchise’s deservedly impressive reputation for memorable deaths, Prometheus’ most notable death is the much-derided sight of Charlize Theron’s Meredith somehow managing to run into the path of a falling spaceship, and although the surgery scene is an effective shock, the deaths of Millburn and Holloway are uncharacteristically forgettable for the franchise.
In contrast, Alien: Covenant gives viewers a slew of gory, inventive deaths like Rosenthal’s brutal and unexpected decapitation via neck bite. Thanks to the new Neomorphs and David’s grisly medical experimentation, the Alien franchise’s reputation for gruesome gore is reinstated in Covenant and the shock factor of some deaths (like the unfortunate grunt whose jaw is torn clean off his face during an encounter with the titular threat) elevates the movie’s memorability far past the offerings of its predecessor. As with any horror movie, the success of each Alien franchise outing is measured by how many memorably grim fates the movie’s aliens mete out on its heroes, and Covenant far outstrips Prometheus by that metric.
David Is A Villain Worthy Of The Xenomorph
Since the first two Alien movies introduced the duplicitous android Ash and the sleazy company man Carter Burke, the series has struggled to find a secondary antagonist as effective as the titular monster. Alien 3 featured the memorably unsettling Golic, a sort-of Renfield to the Xenomorph’s Dracula, but the character is more weird than genuinely scary and never a match for the Xenomorph in terms of threat. However, Alien: Covenant transforms the emotionless David of Prometheus into a terrifying, cold-eyed killer who proves as threatening as the eponymous monster. Michael Fassbender’s android was a touch too disconnected to register as a threat in Prometheus, but David’s twisted plan in Alien: Covenant and his stomach-turning experiments make him a cunning, callous, and scarily soulless match for the feral, unthinking alien.
A good secondary Alien villain needs to be cunning where the title monster is all instinct, as the Xenomorph’s threat comes from its uncontrollable ferocity while the threat posed by David, Ash, and Carter Burke comes from a callous disregard for human life. The Xenomorph may be the one doing the killing, but in the most effective Alien outings, it is unleashed and occasionally even encouraged by humans and androids who are interested in its bioweapon potential and less interested in preserving the lives of their crew members. Prometheus made an admirable stab at humanizing the head of Weyland-Yutani, but as proven by Ridley’s famous “you know Burke, I don’t know which species is worse” quote from Aliens, viewers don’t need the human villains of Alien movies to be relatable or sympathetic. As such, using the unthinking, unfeeling David as an embodiment for Weyland-Yutani’s disregard for the welfare of its employees and for humanity lets Alien: Covenant offer a sharper, scarier threat than Prometheus.
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