Hungry xenomorphs return to theaters this weekend in "Alien: Covenant," the eighth film in the hit horror franchise director Ridley Scott started in 1979 with the release of "Alien," and critics are mostly welcoming it with open arms.
The follow-up to "Alien" prequel "Prometheus" has a 78 percent "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which concluded the movie "delivers another satisfying round of close-quarters deep-space terror, even if it doesn't take the saga in any new directions."
Scott, who is nearly 80, returned to direct "Covenant," starring Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride and Michael Fassbender. Out of the 170 reviews counted from around the world, 132 have been deemed fresh, which gives fans of the franchise good odds that a movie ticket to the 20th Century Fox release is money well spent.
"Covenant" takes place mostly on the same planet we watched the "Prometheus" crew try to escape from, but this time, a ship that arrives to answer a distress beacon is full of couples hoping to colonize a new planet. But lush vegetation doesn't always mean a planet is worth settling on, and the new crew of travelers finds out the hard way that you should never get too close to a strange looking alien egg. Fassbender returns to play not just one, but two androids.
But hey, that's enough about the plot. You've seen enough of these movies to know what you're in store for, right? Bad news is that it follows the basic template Scott invented over three decades ago, but the good news is, there's still plenty to love. Here are five reasons critics are praising "Alien: Covenant."
It's Better Than 'Prometheus'
"'Alien: Covenant' is much better than “Prometheus,” in that it has plenty of scares and an actual plot, which, if sometimes predictable — all of these movies are in some ways the ultimate game of survival — is still satisfying," Arizona Republic critic Bill Goodykoontz wrote in his review. "But you can't help wish that Scott would at some point go back to the basics, make a streamlined version again just to get that adrenaline rush and leave the philosophizing behind.
Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers wrote, "I'd rank Alien: Covenant with the best of the series, right after the first two chapters. Fans are going to freak out. Join in.
"It's rare to see such a combination of technical mastery and wicked joy in a film by a director who's been working as long as Scott," he wrote. "This is the third best 'Alien' movie after the first two, but don't be surprised if repeat viewings kick it up a notch."
"'Alien: Covenant' is scary as hell, and will give you a spectacularly bloody good time at the theater. It will satisfy fans of the first two films, up the ante and thrill fans of 'Prometheus,' and sets the stage for great and horrifying things to come," critic Mark Hughes wrote for Forbes.
Australian film critic Tim Martain backed that up with his review for The Mercury.
"While 'Prometheus' was very much a sci-fi movie with a few horror elements, 'Covenant' is very much a horror movie, just like the original 'Alien' film, which was just a good-looking slasher flick set on a spaceship," Martain wrote. "And 'Covenant' certainly knows how to frighten its audience. Not just with some masterfully played jump-scares, but also in the creepy and innovative creature design (there's a few new creatures lurking here) and the surprisingly restrained but impactful use of gore. Scott's insistence on using practical props and effects wherever possible is always a huge credit to his work, and the puppetry creatures look so good here that they make the CGI aliens look just a little bit fake."
"It's all 'Alien Classic,' only with more of everything. More victims. More aliens. More aliens erupting out of more places: people's backs, people's mouths and, of course, people's chests. More running. More screaming. More blood. Lots more blood," he wrote. "Scott certainly knows how to orchestrate his scares. Yet at the same time, there's something oddly comforting about the familiarity of the goings-on in 'Covenant' (that's the name of the ship). After five previous installments in the franchise, there aren't too many ways it can still surprise you and still be what it is. You come to an 'Alien' movie with certain expectations: creepy thrills, impressive production design, chest busters, acid saliva."
Not a surprise here, but "Covenant" is one of the best looking "Alien" movies yet, thanks to a mix of advanced CGI and old school practical effects Scott used to launch the franchise.
"Scott and his trusted cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski, infuse the opulent visual style of 'Prometheus' with more of the nitty-gritty texture and lived-in qualities of the original 'Alien,' in order to create the aesthetic for 'Covenant,'" Screenrant critic Sandy Schaefer wrote. "The result, as is typically the case for a movie directed by Scott nowadays, is a visually-striking film that boasts much in the way of meticulously-detailed practical sets, beautiful landscape shots and sharp CGI elements to complete the film's vision of the Alien universe, creating a more immersive viewing experience."
Playing two roles is no easy feat for an actor, but Fassbender apparently nails it as new android Walter, plus David, the character he played in "Prometheus."
"It's unapologetically bold and brash in its handling of intellectual material, but it sort of works for a few reasons. For one, the reveal of how and why the xenomorphs were created is rewarding within the terms Scott laid out in 'Prometheus.' And none of this would've worked without the performance of Michael Fassbender, who once again plays the ship's android," IGN critic Daniel Krupa wrote in his review. "He delivers a lot of the stodgier material with ease while gracefully wading through the rising melodrama, conducting Scott's bombastic sci-fi symphony with total conviction. Even when things become faintly ridiculous, he remains utterly compelling."
USA Today Brian Truitt wrote that the entire cast fails to compare to Fassbender.
"When it comes to memorable personalities, humans and aliens alike take a backseat to Fassbender, who is magnificent in his dual robotic roles," he wrote. "Walter is a more mechanical and later model than David, an artistic fellow who literally meets his maker (played by Guy Pearce) in the movie's musical and minimalistic prologue. The scenes between David and Walter are particular engaging, with Fassbender playing off himself to give this lookalike pair individual personalities and motivations."
Prequel to 'Alien,' Sequel to 'Prometheus,' 'Covenant' Combines Best of Both Worlds
And Truitt added that Fassbender helps bridge the very different styles of the prequel and original "Alien" movie.
"While audiences will be able to see the twist coming light years away, 'Covenant' does succeed in continuing 'Prometheus'' ambition to deepen the Alien mythology with a meaning-of-life bent. Carnage may always be at the heart of this series, but Fassbender more than does his part to give it soul," he wrote.
Forbes critic Mark Hughes wrote: "The attention to world-building sci-fi detail and character backgrounds/relationships, as seen in 'Prometheus,' is blended with a disembodied malevolence permeating everything before eventually manifesting as violent terror in the form of the demonic xenomorph, and the story becomes a blood-soaked chase-and-survival tale mirroring 'Alien.'"