Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott’s latest addition to the franchise, has not been greeted with the fanfare that 20th Century Fox might’ve hoped for. The film just barely snagged the number one spot for its opening weekend, falling disappointingly short of Prometheus‘ opening weekend. Covenant’s critical reception was similarly decent, but unimpressive.
But Scott and company should still be proud of Covenant. Besides being an expertly crafted film with stunning visuals and a likable cast, Covenant subtly turns Alien movies toward the road they should travel on. It might not catapult the series to where it needs to be à la Mad Max: Fury Road, but it rotates the steering wheel just enough so that future Alien movies can flourish. The numbers might not agree, the critics might not agree, but Covenant planted seeds (or laid eggs) in the Alien saga that, while they might not blossom immediately, could ultimately give the films a renaissance akin to the James Bond or Mission Impossible series.
Covenant accomplishes two tasks vital to Alien‘s future success. First, it creates a middle ground for the two types of Alien movies that have feuded since Prometheus, and allows them to coexist peacefully. Skyfall and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol achieved the same for their respective franchises: Skyfall sought to combine the light, gadget-filled fun of the original Bond flicks while holding onto that Casino Royale grit, and Ghost Protocol meant to keep spinning its merry-go-round of distinct styles while also giving viewers constant elements to grasp onto. Covenant takes aim at a similar target.
So what precisely did Skyfall and Ghost Protocol do that Covenant shot to emulate? It’s tricky to compare the two movies since they’re so different, but each fused aspects that had previously worked divided and could now work in spades united. Skyfall appeased the fans who craved Jason Bourne-esque James Bond film and wanted a Bond who bleeds, but director Sam Mendes also harkened back to Bond films of old, throwing the new 007 some gadgetry and a grander scale.
Ghost Protocol made the effort to maintain Mission Impossible‘s stylistic integrity, accumulated by the clashing sensibilities of Brian De Palma, John Woo, and J.J. Abrams, by hiring Brad Bird. Bird offered the same verve he injected into his animated works to the peppy, reasonably cartoonish fourth Mission Impossible. But Ghost Protocol also understood that it couldn’t keep jerking its viewers between styles (slow-mo and doves and lens flares, oh my!). The series needed a constant, and it found that constant in recurrent characters other than Ethan Hunt. If III brought back Ving Rhames, Ghost Protocol would bring back Simon Pegg. Then Rogue Nation would bring back Pegg, Rhames, and now Jeremy Renner. Soon, MI:6 will return the former two along with Rebecca Ferguson.
After Prometheus, Alien had two identities to reconcile. There was the old, creepy monster movies in space, and there was the new, heavy musings on creation and the meaning of life. The two don’t mix easily, and Covenant’s lackluster performance reflects that. Still, the movie makes clear attempts to seat both identities at the same table. Some might argue it leans closer to the old than the new (which could be good or bad, dependent on what kind of Alien fan you are), but both are certainly there. A Facehugger will clamp around a poor victim’s head while Michael Fassbender quotes Ozymandias. A Xenomorph will devour its prey while Michael Fassbender makes out with another Michael Fassbender. The concoction is far from perfect, but at least somebody is stirring the pot.
The second assignment Covenant tackles is the overarching one Ghost Protocol took on: giving the audience recurring characters. Repeat faces are more important to Mission Impossible than it is to Alien. In action movies you hope to see your favorites again, whereas in horror movies the hope is that, from volume to volume, people die horribly and few remain standing. Excluding Ripley (and Bishop, technically), previous Alien movies didn’t see many returning players. So while this element wasn’t one of Alien‘s prevailing identities, it could serve as the rope that ties them together.
This is what makes David so important. An android introduced in Prometheus and brought back for Covenant, David marks a carryover villain in the Alien saga who isn’t a Xenomorph. And unlike the hideous creatures that give Alien its name, David contains multitudes that no Xenomorph, practical or CGI, could ever amount to. He’s the bastard child of science itself, and his origin has given him an inclination to create significant new species. He’ll pontificate on end about creation without sacrificing the feel of a good old fashioned villain. A lot of this is thanks to the work of actor Michael Fassbender (who works beautifully off of co-star Michael Fassbender).
A follow-up to Covenant is a long way off, and its unclear which cast-members will return (besides the deceased, obviously). But given his popularity and the place we last left him, chances are fair that David will be back in future Alien films. Covenant‘s successor stands to benefit greatly from his presence, both because of the character himself and because he’ll represent a new constant in the Alien series.
Only time will tell if Alien: Covenant was a resounding success. But at the very least it qualifies as a step in the right direction, which should count as a success for any franchise. Especially for a film series that has lost it’s way. The Wolverine might not be perfect, but it sent Wolverine movies on the right path and ensured better entries down the line. Who’s to say Covenant won’t set the stage for Alien‘s Logan? Whether you give it a Gold Medal or a participation trophy, Alien: Covenant does deserve credit. It nudged its series in a new direction, and hopefully will lead it to finding a better home.