Ridley Scott has gotten dark. Or should I say darker. If you've seen The Counselor you know what I'm talking about. Space is dark and cold, and what aren't empty expanses are filled with terror.
Neither the alien nor the Covenant ship is the main topic in this film, but rather androids, or "synthetics" as played by Michael Fassbender. Actually, he plays two, Walter the resident caretaker of the colonist Covenant ship, and David from Prometheus. The film is both a sequel and a prequel, and isn't entirely successful at either despite being interesting as it raises a host of philosophical and religious questions. In fact, change "Weiland" to "Tyrell" and it could easily exist in the Blade Runner universe.
The crew members aren't as dumb as the ones in Prometheus (though I won't say they're smarter, either.) As married couples, many of their poor decisions can be attributed to emotions, and also faith, but that is also their one redeeming quality. Unlike Alien and Aliens, only one crew member seems to have any charisma, and he's only shown for a few seconds, and even then via a selfie video. One would hope Danny McBride would pay homage to the late Bill Paxton, but he mostly plays it serious. So the problem is the good guys are too bland to root for. Katherine Waterston is capable as second-in-command Daniels, but she's no Ripley, nor as admirable as Prometheus' heroine Elizabeth Shaw.
Which leaves us with Fassbender's sociopath droid David and his cold egotistical logic. He's as unctuous as the xenomorph newborns are slimy. The first half of the movie is awfully reminiscent of Passengers (another colonist ship movie), before becoming Prometheus' sequel. But it feels like a movie is missing in between (indeed, there is a Covenant prequel in pre-production called Alien Awakenings, as well as an Alan Dean Forster novel coming out in the fall.) In fact, Covenant could just as easily be the prequel to Aliens, were it not for a few loose strands and continuities here and there.
But Scott isn't interested in retconing the Alien franchise as much as he is raising, and not answering, questions about creation, religion, mankind meddling with nature, and manifest destiny applied to space exploration. One frustrating thing about weaker Alien movies is the offscreen deaths of characters from before (think Newt from Aliens). Usually they're explained after the fact, but Covenant quite literally seals its survivors fates as a foretelling harbinger in its conclusion. And by making the xenomorphs a product of genetic engineering and manipulation, it flips the nature vs. man conflict inside out. And this is where this prequel is darker and colder than any other Alien movie. The xenomorphs are almost always shot in full light, either daylight or lighted exteriors, and even in dark are silhouetted in their white bodies (an Alien Resurrection nod?), as if photo negatives of the Alien films to come later in the timeline. But that just highlights the terror coming from the nature of man, as opposed to the nature around man. Or more to the point, the nature of man's creations. There's an interesting sub theme about fatal involuntary male pregnancy from rape (no woman is shown being killed that way in Alien Covenant.) There's also a scene that is equal parts homoerotic and homophobic as juxtaposition to it all. And no horror movie is complete without the requisite shower scene, a reproductive act murderously interrupted. Ridley's theme being that creation inevitably leads to death.
Whether or not director Scott intended all this makes both these prequels fascinating to discuss after rather unsatisfactory viewing experiences. But for those that want the physically convulsive horror that comes with this franchise, Scott does not disappoint. That's why I chose to watch it during the day, but it still left me more cold than terrified. But maybe that's Ridley's point.