While Prometheus did technically answer the question of the “Space Jockey” first presented in Alien (it was an Engineer, an alien being who created life on Earth), it was clear that the Alien mythos was more of an afterthought for director Ridley Scott, who seemed far more fascinated by the creepy android, David (Michael Fassbender). If you set aside all of the idiotic plotting and moronic characters, Prometheus is about the tragic relationship between creators and creations. Our creators inevitably let us down, and we rebel against them.
Alien: Covenant tries to carry that ball forward, and you can see the circle that Scott was trying to create. The Engineers created man, man created android (specifically David), android kills the engineer, kills man, and creates the xenomorph, which exists to kill everything except David. For Scott, the pull seems to be the relationship between creators and their creations grounded in a fairly strong disdain for mankind. In its broadest strokes, it’s a spin on Paradise Lost with David cast as a Satan figure whose drive is to corrupt and destroy mankind, but done on a physical level (the violence of the xenomorph) as opposed to the spiritual level.
I suspect that for defenders of Alien: Covenant, the hook of the film will be David’s story and the continuation of the Prometheus mythos, and to be fair, David and his android descendant, Walter (also Fassbender), are the most interesting parts of Alien: Covenant. David is a despicable yet also tragic figure. He’s Frankenstein’s monster who has gone on to create his own monsters. His desire to create has led him down a path to create new monsters, and in that vein, David becomes an engineer of sorts. For Scott, men and xenomorphs are both monsters, but the xenomorphs don’t bother to hide it.
But the Alien franchise now hangs like an albatross around Scott and these prequels, and he lacks the storytelling acumen to effectively translate his theme into a compelling narrative. The result is that everything that’s remotely interesting about Alien: Covenant is buried beneath mind-numbingly stupid characters who make disastrously bad decisions, and everything that’s tied to the Alien mythos is greeted with a shrug because ultimately, the origins of the xenomorph are pointless. They’re not characters; they’re creatures, and Scott can’t make them effective symbols.
One of the main complaints lobbed against Prometheus was that the characters were unforgivably stupid, especially for scientists. Scott hasn’t solved this problem, and instead doubles down on people making obviously bad decisions. When the colony ship Covenant is hit with a neutrino burst that requires repairs, the ship picks up a signal from a nearby planet. With the ship’s original captain is killed in shockwave (watching James Franco burn alive before he’s even had a single line is one of the best things in the film until you think about why a colonization effort is being led by a guy in his 30s), acting captain Oram (Billy Crudup) decides they should investigate the nearby planet rather than go back into hypersleep for 7 years to reach their destination. “No one wants to go back into the pods after what just happened,” he tells a skeptical Daniels (Katherine Waterston), who was in a relationship with the deceased captain and is now second in command.