Working as a sequel to Prometheus and a prequel to the Alien trilogy, Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, as the title alludes to, certainly seems to share more in common with the latter, as a self-contained science fiction blockbuster that thrives in its simplistic premise. Where Prometheus was somewhat ambitious narratively, instead this sequel can be appreciated more so as a standalone survival flick simply belonging to the same universe – and the film benefits greatly as a result.

Covenant is the name of the colony ship, bound for a remote planet to kickstart mankind – though along the way finds itself in a new territory; on what the crew perceive to be an unchartered paradise. Losing their captain (James Franco) in the process, the remaining members of the vessel, including the newly-instated captain Oram (Billy Crudup), as well as Daniels (Katherine Waterston) and android Walter (Michael Fassbender) – an updated model on David, who we met in the preceding endeavour – soon find their new surroundings to be a dark and perilous environment, inhabited by a nefarious alien species, wanting nothing more than for the pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride) to rescue them before it’s too late, as their numbers slowly begin to dwindle.

Alien CovenantComing from the very same man who himself had started the series back in 1979, the master storyteller is on dependable form with this latest outing, displaying that same distinctive suspense that has illuminated the screen across each passing endeavour within this popular franchise. The fear derives from the unknown, and the inability to understand the primary antagonists, amplifying the terror as we have no barometer for what these extraterrestrial beings are capable of; both physically and psychologically. The creature design is impressive too, utilising a newfound means of technology the original picture was without to create indelible villains, while they’re matched by a brutal sound design, as we hear every crunch and every drop of blood, even extending to the intense cutting of android David’s hair, as the blade of the scissors opening and closing gets right under your skin.

Fassbender, yet again, steals the show with a commendably nuanced display, portraying two characters in this instance (the returning David being the other) and yet in just a mere second, and in spite of the similar appearance, we always know exactly who he is portraying at any given moment, such is the subtle changes to his demeanour. Androids in this franchise have always represented an elusive presence too, perennially untrustworthy, as we’re unable to ever quite figure out if they’re inherently good or evil, and the actor displays such ambiguity with ease. Though in spite of the droids and the aliens that adorn this dark and desolate landscape, Alien: Covenant is grounded by its commitment to humanity, and the more emotionally driven sequences are remarkably well-judged, as every life lost feels significant, which is so rarely the case with survival flicks of this nature.

But the film comes without any palpable protagonist to carry that emotional burden, someone for the audience to invest in and root for. Waterston’s Daniels is as close as we come, but she isn’t a well-rounded enough character, underwritten for the most part (she’s no Ripley, anyway). This proves detrimental to proceedings, for the stakes are not particularly high enough. If you take the recently released Life, for instance, though an inferior film, the whole of planet Earth was at risk, but in this instance the only futures that truly seem in peril are those of the crew members, and given the distinct lack of back story to any one in particular, we simply don’t care quite enough. Given the entire film is built around their longing to survive, this proves to be something of an issue.

Alien: Covenant is released on May 12th.