How to have a good time at 'Alien: Covenant': A 5-step guide

For starters, it helps if you're actually looking at the screen instead of ... whatever that is. A can lid?

Image: 20th Century Fox

The reviews are in, and they're ... well. Much like Prometheus before it, Alien: Covenant is turning out to be a severely polarizing movie.

But that doesn't mean Alien: Covenant isn't worth seeing, or that you won't like it. You just need to know how to like it.

That's where we come in.

Much of the mixed reaction to Alien: Covenant seems to stem from the fact that it's not necessarily the movie that Alien fans were expecting. So we're to run down everything you need for a guaranteed* good time at Alien: Covenant.

(* Note: good time not actually guaranteed. See #6.)

1. Don't expect a classic Alien movie

This guy isn't in the movie nearly as much as the marketing might lead you to believe.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Yes, Covenant is being marketed as a pivot away from the existential navel-gazing of Prometheus and back toward Alien's horror roots. Yes, the ads have been all about xenomorphs and facehuggers and terrified humans slipping on blood. Yes, the studio even went so far as to put "Alien" right there in the title, signaling that this is definitely, for sure, 100% an Alien movie, just in case you had any doubt.

And yet, if you go in expecting classic Alien, and you're likely to be disappointed. While there's more action and horror in Covenant than we got in Prometheus including some stomach-churning alien births and a breathless high-speed climax Covenant's dirty little secret is that it's really a Prometheus sequel at heart.

2. Rewatch Prometheus beforehand

Hey, remember David from Prometheus? He's back!

Image: 20th Century Fox

... Which brings us to this next point. While it's not strictly necessary to rewatch Prometheus before seeing Alien: Covenant, the latter is likely to make a heck of a lot more sense if the former is still fresh in your mind. Covenant's approach to storytelling is more impressionistic than linear which is a nice way of saying there are lots of gaps.

Not all of those gaps are filled by Prometheus, but a lot of them are. David's attitude toward humanity in Covenant is explained by his relationships with the people in Prometheus, for example. It's easier to figure out which stories about the doomed Prometheus expedition can be trusted if you remember how things really went down in that last movie. And you won't be left racking your brain wondering if you've just forgotten a bunch of details from Prometheus.

As a bonus, if you've got a few extra minutes after rewatching Prometheus, it may also be worth your while to check out those Covenant prologues released by 20th Century Fox in the months leading up to the film's release. The information covered in them isn't absolutely essential, but "The Last Supper" adds some depth to the ensemble cast while "The Crossing" serves as a narrative bridge between Prometheus and Covenant.

3. Don't get too caught up in the mythology

Alien: Covenant doesn't care about your fan theories.

Image: Mark Rogers / 20th Century Fox

So now that you've done your homework and revisited Prometheus and watched those prologues, you should be all set to understand Covenant's additions to the mythology. Right?

Well ... no, probably not.

I rewatched Prometheus less than an hour before seeing Alien: Covenant, and I still couldn't quite tell you how all the pieces fit together. Covenant, like Prometheus before it, is less interested in the mechanics of its mythology than in the existential questions raised by it.

Covenant wants us to consider what it means to create, and what happens when our creations take on lives of their own. It asks what our purpose is, and what it should be. It wonders why we want to meet our makers, and what we'd get out of it if we did. It wrestles with heavy themes like free will, and questions the value of humankind itself.

It's a lot less interested in answering where the Engineers came from, or what they have to do with us, or what any of this has to do with Ellen Ripley and the crew of the Nostrodomo. You'll enjoy Alien: Covenant a whole lot more if you decide you don't care, either.

4. Realize that this is David's movie

Neither of these people are actually the main character of Alien: Covenant.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Speaking of things this movie doesn't care about: the humans. Covenant might look, at first, like a movie about the doomed crew of a colony ship. It only really clicks into place, though, once you realize this is David's story. He's the throughline between Prometheus and Covenant. The humans are there to support his arc, not the other way around.

Aside from an early flashback, David doesn't even appear until the second act of the movie. But he commands the story as soon as he shows up. He immediately becomes the most proactive and therefore the most interesting character on the screen, and the film gives him the time to indulge in meaningful glances and philosophical musings and even, at one point, a music lesson.

Meanwhile, the humans are barely fleshed out at all. Some of the 16-person crew are more memorable than others, but for the most part they're just a large, undifferentiated mass of oblivious humanity. Covenant sees them, in other words, the way a vicious alien or a sentient android might. It's telling that it's easier to tell apart David and Walter (basically a David 2.0) than it is most of the humans, despite the fact that David and Walter are played by the same actor.

5. Just give yourself over to this completely bizarre experience

Let yourself look up at the screen in wonder. Yes, just like that.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Oh, and while we're on the subject of David's journey toward self-actualization, be warned that it's a very strange one, full of awesome imagery, dry humor, graphic gore, and unexpected detours, as well as some awkward pieces that don't quite fit. That's the fun of it for long stretches of the movie, you never really know what's coming next.

So I won't say too much here, lest I spoil all those surprises. If the thought of seeing, say, Michael Fassbender gaze soulfully into another Michael Fassbender's eyes sounds like your idea of a good time, it's worth just giving yourself over to the weird, wild ride that is Covenant.

And if our first 5-step guide to having a great time at ... didn't do it for you, well, fine. Then you're on to No.

6. ... just accept that Alien: Covenant isn't for you

If you'd rather have an alien burst out of your body than rewatch Prometheus, Covenant probably won't be for you.

Image: 20th Century Fox

And here's where I acknowledge that even if you follow all these steps to the letter, Alien: Covenant might leave you totally cold. If you gritted your teeth when I recommended watching Prometheus again, or rolled your eyes when I advised you not to worry too much about the mythology, then it's unlikely Covenant will be up your alley, either.

Covenant is not an easy crowd-pleaser, and that's the best thing about it. It's pretentious, and obnoxious, and absurd and uneven and probably totally nonsensical. It's also refreshingly unusual, at a time when each new megabudget blockbuster sequel seems to bleed into the next. Covenant won't be for everyone, and it might not be for you. But the fact that something this bold and ambitious got made? I think that's worth celebrating either way.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/18/alien-covenant-movie-guide/