Ridley Scott’s “Alien Covenant” is a direct sequel to “Prometheus,” but don’t let that worry you. With “Prometheus,” Scott let a weak, confusing script run away with the whole thing, which itself was a prequel to his seminal sci-fi horror film “Alien.” With “Covenant,” he takes hold of the reins.
Set 10 years after “Prometheus,” the film follows the crew of the Covenant, a colony ship packed with 2,000 people resting in suspended animation. A random solar disaster occurs, killing some of the crew (including the captain) and waking the rest from their hibernation pods. After picking up a human signal from a previously uncharted planet, the ship’s new, devoutly religious captain (Billy Crudup) changes course to investigate.
A landing party is sent to the world, which is stormy but darkly beautiful and with a breathable atmosphere. On the surface, the crew, which includes heroine Daniels (Katherine Waterston), encounter spores that enter human bodies, gestate into grotesque aliens and explode out of the body in a bloody mess.
They also encounter David (Michael Fassbender), the insidious android from “Prometheus.” Walter, the Covenant’s android (Fassbender again), has an instant distrust of David, who is an earlier machine known for its willfulness. Walter, supposedly a synthetic person without feelings, harbors a restrained affection for Daniels, feelings played upon by the craftier David. Fassbender plays several scenes against himself in moments charged with a delightfully unsettling sensuality.
Scott too frequently allows his characters to wander off alone to become monster food. But the eye rolls are quickly forgotten during the creature sequences, which employ gory effects and quick cuts for nerve-rattling tension.
The dialogue, especially between androids David and Walter, crackles with an eerie intelligence, pushing the film well beyond simple space horror. There’s a philosophical awareness of the creationism/evolution dichotomy that resonates with you long after the bloodletting stops. Though some characters are presented as disposable, the script, by John Logan and Dante Harper, takes the time to put sympathetic touches on others, such as the ship’s bold, cowboy hat-wearing pilot (Danny McBride).
Moving at a swift clip, Scott threads together intense sequences of dazzling design and effects and quieter character moments that flesh out and color in the “Alien” universe. “Covenant” looks 10 shades of fantastic, with jaw-dropping cinematography that realizes everything from the intimate blue glow of a spaceship cockpit to the ghostly ruin of an alien necropolis.
At 79, Scott remains one of cinema’s most vital filmmakers. While his career has had its share of letdowns, he’s got more masterpieces to his credit than all but a handful of directors, and his ability to consistently turn out work that hits the sweet spot between art and commerce is invaluable. With “Covenant,” Scott may have produced another pop cinema masterpiece.