By Chaz Lipp
The Lowdown: Director Ridley Scott moves this latest ‘Alien’ adventure along at a frantic pace, with tense, scary action compensating for a ho-hum story.
Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant delivers what many fans of the venerable franchise felt was missing from the director’s 2012 Prometheus. While both films are prequels to the 1979 original, actual Xenomorph rampaging was in short supply in Prometheus. Instead we were presented with a rather indistinct crew fumbling around on a mysterious foreign world, with Michael Fassbender providing the most interesting drama as the dubiously-motivated synthetic David. Scott offered plenty of new ideas, but somehow they didn’t add up to anything satisfying. And the action was limited. The new Convenant picks up a few years later, with another admittedly indistinct crew landing on the same planet featured in Prometheus.
Though Scott gets tripped up at times trying to further his complex backstory mythology, Covenant nonetheless provides a fast-paced blast of action/horror that combines some of the claustrophobia of Alien ’79 with much of the adrenaline-fueled chase of Aliens ’86. It’s not likely to replace those films as most folks’ faves, but it improves vastly on the pompous, too-static Prometheus. And Fassbender again delivers the most effective performance, this time doing double-duty as Prometheus-survivor David and the newer synthetic Walter. After the David model proved to be too independent a thinker, the Walter model was streamlined for more efficient subservience.
It’s Walter who first seems to sense something is terribly wrong once the spacecraft Covanent touches down on an unknown planet. An energy burst damaged the craft, which carries over 2,000 colonists, and killed numerous crew members including their captain. First Mate Oram (Billy Crudup) assumes command, quickly finding that none of the newly-awakened crew trusts his judgment. Though they were heading toward Origae-6, a thoroughly-researched planet thought to be habitable by humans, Oram reroutes the ship to the source of a bizarre transmission intercepted by Covenant pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride). Brief mention is made of Oram’s religious faith as the source of their wariness, but unfortunately the topic isn’t sufficiently explored. The focus stays on Oram’s inexperience as a leader as the crew blunders into one bad situation after another.
At its weakest, Alien: Covenant suffers due to its characters’ lack of true awe and surprise at the sites before them. Captain Oram, along with the deceased captain’s wife Dany (Katherine Waterston) and the rest of the conscious Covenant crew, fumble around without protective gear, ignore safety and quarantine protocol, and are eventually greeted by a perfect double of their synthetic who proceeds to lead them through a coliseum full of charred, dead, humanoid bodies. Not to mention the fact that soon after planetary exploration begins, vicious aliens begin bursting from some crew members’ bodies. The Convenant crew, still racked by the deep space accident that claimed lives, would likely be paralyzed by primal fear. Yet they remain relatively nonplussed in the face of seemingly impossible realities.
In a way, Alien: Covenant is fun in the way that Alien: Resurrection, the underrated 1997 sequel that featured a cloned Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), is fun. It’s far from essential—Scott’s original and James Cameron’s follow-up are the only two purposeful entries in the Alien series. But it’s action sequences are well executed and the F/X and production design are always impressive. Fassbender’s similar-yet-different synthetics provide way more drama than the actual human characters. Scott boldly ends inconclusively. obviously confident that audience appetite for this series is insatiable.
A middling opening-weekend gross suggests otherwise. Still, as long as Scott can continue reworking the formula as effectively as in Alien: Covenant hopefully we’ll see more Xenomorphs in the future.
Alien: Covenant images: 20th Century Fox