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Alien: Covenant Brings Back Unnerving Memories Of The Original

Prometheus received some guarded praise when it was released in 2012, but that Alien prequel now looks like a failed effort to recapture the elusive magic of director Ridley Scott’s career-making original. Featuring an unusually spotty cast and an unnecessarily intricate mythology that felt like a better fit for schlocky TV than prestige sci-fi cinema, Prometheus only occasionally hinted at the visceral power of Alien.

While Alien: Covenant also falls well short of the original sci-fi/horror masterpiece, it’s an undeniable triumph of course correction, placing the emphasis where it should be—distinctive characters, nerve-wracking set pieces—and reminding us that the franchise’s greatest virtue was always its minimalist focus on in-the-moment anxiety, rather than big picture plot complications.

In the year 2104, a ship known as Covenant is on its way to Origae-6, a remote planet set to host 2,000 colonists and 1,000 embryos. On the way to its destination, this ship is struck by a neutrino burst, resulting in the death of the (amusingly cast) captain and several other passengers. In the aftermath of this incident, the survivors intercept a radio transmission from a nearby planet, which leads to an unplanned detour that brings them into contact with Prometheus’ survivor synthetic, David (Michael Fassbender). Before long, aliens start finding their way inside various bodies, bursting out in gruesome new ways—to wreak terrifying havoc on the passengers of Covenant.

That intentionally vague plot synopsis avoids the complications involving David and his next generation replica Walter, but aside from one extended flashback—that heavily recalls the story and sensibilities of PrometheusAlien: Covenant is refreshingly free of elaborate narrative gymnastics. Instead, director Ridley Scott wisely places his emphasis on a series of urgent alien vs. human crises, both on land and on board the claustrophobic title ship.

Rather than simply mimic the original, the director taps into modern technology and his own expanded skill set, giving this film’s alien confrontations a more vivid sense of scale, physicality, and kinetic disarray. 40 years into his filmmaking career, Scott is still delivering some of the most confident and ambitious action sequences of his career.

While Alien: Covenant is at its best in these set pieces, it also benefits from a greater sense of quality control throughout. Working with first-timer Dante Harper, acclaimed screenwriter John Logan (Skyfall, Penny Dreadful) finds substance in a few of his pet themes (creation, destruction) and develops a more credible cast of characters. It doesn’t hurt that Scott has brought back Prometheus MVP Fassbender (in multiple roles), along with Demián Bichir, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Amy Seimetz, and the Ripley-worthy Katherine Waterston.

But the real stars of Alien: Covenant are those slimy creatures, arriving in many new shapes and sizes, revealing capabilities both playful and shocking. In the end, Scott gets the franchise back on track with a critical realization: the most essential ingredient is right there in the title.

Alien: Covenant chest-bursts into theatres May 19. Check out InnerSpace‘s interviews with the cast and crew below: