Almost 40 years ago, Alien was a B-movie with A+ production values and performances, and the scariest monster the movies ever gave us. The new Alien: Covenant is a shamelessly high-minded, Byron-and-Shelley-quoting existential inquiry into the origin of three species and the nature of belief that goes slumming in genre territory just enough to get itself greenlit.
Guess which one is going to last? My money's on the one that already has.
At least Covenant is an artistic upgrade to Prometheus, the frustrating 2012 preamble to which it is a direct sequel. In that film, septuagenarian director Ridley Scott returned to the Alien-iverse he created and then left to others. Specifically, others who've had careers as celebrated and far more consistent than his own: James Cameron, David Fincher, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Their follow-ups varied in quality and ambition (and yes, Aliens is a masterpiece in its own right), but none addressed where their nightmare beasts came from, or who the long-dead, inhuman "space jockey" seen briefly in Alien was. To Scott, this apparently amounted to artistic negligence. Because after 35 years away from the chest-bursting game, the thrice-Oscar-nominated director of the wretched Silence of the Lambs sequel Hannibal, among too many other films, opted to answer these questions... in the most ponderous, deflating way possible.
Prometheus left enough of us — and some members of its own creative team — confounded that Sir Ridley has been forced to make a few concessions this time: Putting the word Alien in the movie's name, using the opening title cards from his 1979 landmark, and reprising elements of Jerry Goldsmith's haunting Alien score. These remedies all come from the latter-day "legacyquel" playbook that helped the likes of Jurassic World and Creed and Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens give their long-running franchises a second or third generation of fans. For Covenant's CGI-slathered, perfunctory-feeling all-action finale, Scott even revives the classic H.R. Giger-designed "xenomorph" incarnation of the species, despite having publicly opined for years that too much acid-blood had been wrung from that particular stone.