Alien: Covenant begins with a perfectly composed prologue in which the android David (Michael Fassbender), first seen in Prometheus, speaks with Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), his creator. David inquires: “If you created me, who created you?” That, Weyland says, is what he wants to discover. “Where do we come from?” he asks. Weyland then orders David to bring him some tea. David hesitates, but then obeys. This simple yet pivotal conversation sows the seeds of all that is to come in both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. After all, a covenant is a bond between two people or parties, and that bond began to crack in Prometheus. In Ridley Scott’s grisly follow-up, it’s shattered.

In 2104, the spaceship Covenant -- which contains 2000 would-be space colonists in deep hyper-sleep, as well as the ship’s android caretaker, Walter (Fassbender again) -- is en route to the remote planet Origae-6, where the settlers hope to create a new outpost for humanity. But the starship runs into a violent storm that kills dozens onboard, including the captain (James Franco), and awakens its 14 other crew members. With the mission thrown off course and command now delegated to Oram (Billy Crudup), the deeply religious but timid first officer, the crew decide to investigate a nearby planet that may be a viable alternative to Origae-6, which they are still another seven years from reaching. Big mistake.

It’s not spoiling anything to reveal that the Covenant crew discover two things when they arrive on the seemingly Eden-like planet: vicious, sharp-toothed predators out for blood, and David, who leads the Covenant crew to a cave where he promises they’ll be safe. Of course, safe is the last thing any of them are, as they begin to get picked off one-by-one by the scorpion-tailed monsters. And their deaths are excruciating to watch, with Scott piling on the blood, guts, and gore. Yet the killings are all completely expected, so it’s no surprise when they occur: The film is sorely missing a sense of dread or the unknown. Yes, the alien creatures are unrelenting death machines, but they pale in comparison with David. He is, by far, the most chilling aspect of the movie. Fassbender is nothing short of sensational in his dual role as David and Walter, and the scenes between the two robotic beings are filled with both tenderness and unease. David is the more human of the two, while Walter was created without emotions and possesses a strong sense of duty. And, just as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, the creature rebels against its creator and wants to be God himself. Also outstanding is Katherine Waterston as Daniels, the mission’s head of terraforming operations. She’s basically the movie’s Ripley, the character who must face her fears and terminate the terrorizing Xenomorph.

Alien: Covenant is a must-see for fans of the franchise and is a notch better than the expertly crafted but underwhelming Prometheus (for one thing, this latest installment answers most of the questions raised by Prometheus’ inconclusive ending). Scott, obviously, intended to make a hard-R-rated scarefest here, and he partially succeeds. Newbies will likely be stricken with terror, but veterans of the franchise have seen it all before and done better, most notably in Scott’s original Alien and James Cameron’s riveting sequel Aliens. Covenant is most interesting as a theological treatise on man’s origins and downfall. Unfortunately, the film’s one man of faith, Oram, is viewed, in typical Hollywood fashion, as the weakest and most unreliable character. But then there’s Fassbender. He’s nothing short of a revelation.