Prometheus was a divisive prequel to the Alien series. While I didn’t hate it nearly as much as its staunchest critics, it did leave me wanting more in the gore department. The wait for the next installment of the franchise was well worth it. Alien: Covenant was better than I expected, a perfect blend of drama and thrills that made me want to revisit both Prometheus and Alien.

Taking place a decade after the events in PrometheusCovenant follows the fifteen-member crew of a colonization mission bound for Origae-6 with android Walter (played by Michael Fassbender) piloting the ship and 2,000 colonists in deep sleep. They’ve got about seven years left on their journey when a freak cosmic energy surge temporarily cripples the ship. While making repairs, they receive an emergency transmission and follow it to an unexplored planet, where they are quickly exposed to new Xenomorphic threats and the history of this terrible creature.

“Look on my works ye mighty and despair.”

And the Xenomorphs’ origin story is truly breathtaking to behold. It’s a twisted example of Tolkien’s notion of sub-creation: created beings long to create…even if they are androids….and our perceptions of our creator(s) profoundly shape our creations. This plays out in juicy ways between androids Walter and David (Fassbender also reprising his role from Prometheus). And even if the final act is predictable, it’s still a thrill to watch unfold. Although there are no “get away from her, you bitch!” lines to cheer, Captain Daniels’ (Katherine Waterston) two showdowns with giant Xenomorphs are impressive action sequences.

Like Prometheus, Alien: Covenant benefits from beautiful cinematography, thanks in large part to stunning locations in New Zealand. Fassbender and Waterston are strong human counterparts to the alien stars, whose hatchings and attacks are highlights of the franchise. While the plot feels a little uneven–like there might be a director’s cut waiting in the wings–it offers a tantalizing bridge to the events in Alien, which will apparently take place over two more (yay?!) films.

Alien: Covenant (122 mins.) is rated R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language, and some sexuality/nudity. You know what you’re getting into.