It's very hard to not call Prometheus a let-down. Regardless of what you actually thought of the film as a whole - for every person willing to cite it as the Alien franchise's equivalent of The Phantom Menace there's another enthralled by its high-minded creator exploration - it does have some unavoidably poor screenwriting. It's still hard to decide which is more perplexing - the geologist who gets lost in a structure he just mapped, the biologist who tries to snuggle a violent snake, or the businesswoman who can't think to run sideways.
But where Prometheus really let people down was its near-Lovecraftian pile of unanswered questions and its complete distance from the movie it was conceived as a prequel for. You could connect everything to Alien with some academic-level legwork, sure, but by that point all fun had been sucked out of the movie itself and the weight of what Ridley Scott was trying to do was lost.
With that in mind, Alien: Covenant feels like it was explicitly made to address these concerns in a way that is gratifying for Prometheus fans yet simultaneously acceptable to its many critics (in fact, Scott's been rather open about how he feels he dropped the ball with the prequel). And, in a roundabout way, it succeeds; the new release doesn't invest its entire runtime into fixing its predecessor, but through its tangential narrative ties up a lot of threads. While Prometheus still has those ridiculous characters, on a story and thematic point it's all the richer.
How The Alien Ties Improve Prometheus
When you boil away all the hype disappointment, the core of Prometheus' problem is at once trying to be an Alien prequel and a unique story without quite offering enough to be either. Covenant, on the other hand, is both.
In terms of wider mythology, the big impact is revealing the origin of the xenomorph (David bioengineered them from the Engineer's black liquid pathogen) and what happened to humanity's creators (David massacred them with the same goo). Certain Prometheus elements, such as why the Engineers ultimately decided to kill humanity, seem unlikely to ever be fully explored, and we're still a way off understanding how the derelict ship from the original Alien crashed on LV-426, but by simply moving the story closer to Alien the major disconnect feels less seismic than it did in 2012. There's also some subtle addressing of minor quibbles alongside that; we learn that David was dying his hair at the start of Prometheus because the synthetic is naturally brunette, and that Weyland's fear of death is his divine motivation.
Of course, explaining a movie five years later doesn't necessarily fix it - Neill Blomkamp retconning Alien 3 wouldn't have excused the Fincher-disowned dud. However, Scott's choice of themes provides a more active reframe; with Covenant he clues the viewer into what they should be looking at with Prometheus, making his vision altogether clearer.
Obviously you have the creation element, now the franchise's calling card, which is refined and made much clearer through the explanation of the previously mentioned mysteries (and has been discussed heavily elsewhere).
Within this, though, Scott manages to provide a proper extension for the debate of religion and what it means in the modern day. Obliquely the film is again set at Christmas and the mentions of "father" in reference to creation are upped massively. Shaw's devout Christianity in Prometheus - she retained her faith throughout her ordeal, offhanding the discovery of Engineers by semi-flippantly asking who created them - is even contrasted with the Covenant's Captain Oram, whose devout faith has been a roadblock in his career. But further, in providing the answers to the franchise's unsettling ambiguities, he actively prompts a debate on whether it's better to wonder or know - religion or science.
And looking to the series' future, Scott brings back sex. Prometheus had sexual elements for sure, but nothing that held a candle to Alien's oral-rape-produced penis monster. This is where Covenant really legitimizes its predecessor. The flute, a bizarre piece of Engineer tech used to turn on their spaceships, becomes a phallus substitute for David and Walter. The homoerotic undertones in their single-take first interaction are hard to miss - it's all talk of fingering - but it's further symbolizing the bringing of human psychosis to our creator's ideas. Scott is using Alien's sex themes to enhance Prometheus' themes of creation.
- Alien: Covenant (2017) release date: May 19, 2017