Writer: John Logan, Dante Harper (screenplay) Jack Paglen, Michael Green (story)
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Guy Pearce
Running time: 122mins
What’s the story: Crew members of a space vessel carrying colonists to a new world investigate a mysterious transmission emanating from an uncharted planet. The reception they receive is not friendly.
What’s the verdict: A long time since we’ve been loving the alien. But, Ridley Scott’s 1979 original and James Cameron’s 1986 sequel are sci-fi masterpieces, so hope remains the next Alien movie will facehug your affections.
2012’s Prometheus saw Scott back and calling the shots. The result was an incoherent mess. Good news is Alien: Covenant improves on Prometheus. The bad news, it’s still dumb and sees Ridley (and Gladiator writer John Logan) re-hashing plot, scenes and shocks the director executed perfectly almost 40 years ago.
And glazing it with acid blood that bores massive holes into the plot and strips characterisation almost to nothing.
Again we’re on a deep space vessel with an unusual name (Covenant). Again the crew is raised early out of hyper sleep (here due to a cosmic storm battering the ship, similar to fellow sci-fi dud Passengers). Again the crew receives a mysterious signal from an uncharted world (here seemingly human in origin). Again they investigate, discover all is not peaceful and… you can fill in the rest.
You can fill it in sight unseen. Alien: Covenant holds few surprises and continues retro-fitting the original movies into the dopey galactic engineers guff Scott kickstarted with Damon Lindelof in Prometheus. While making room for stuff snatched from Aliens, Alien 3 and even Exodus: Gods and Kings.
And again, Passengers. Like that film this also has a decent opening twenty minutes followed by a hundred more that see characters doing stupid things. Case in point: if the crew were smart enough to wear protective suits when investigating the planet, everyone would reach the end credits smiling. As with Passengers there is also an undercurrent of sexual threat, but at least here it’s intentional.
Acting chops wise, it’s Fassbender’s show. An opening scene with his David from Prometheus and a cameoing Guy Pearce is well-played theological sparring. Walter, a new synthetic again in Fassbender’s likeness, is equally intriguing. Even if Scott cannot resist harkening back to Ian Holm’s unstable synthetic Ash from the original movie.
Katherine Waterston as an ersatz Ripley has little to do bar some third act action, while Danny McBride is better than expected as a gung-ho pilot and Billy Crudup is roundly underused as the ship’s captain.
And half-baked Creator/creation themes interspersed with stalk and slash “neomorph” gore make for thin gruel. While H.R. Giger’s nightmarish alien design still dazzles, the film comes close to destroying it with one laughable moment part Spaceballs, part “I am Groot”. You’ll spot it.
A few moments of slippery wet horror make an impact, but the movie succumbs to that Alien Vs Predator shtick of alien feotuses gestating in record time to quicker reach the monster action.
Scott has said there will be another movie continuing the story. He should heed the words of Walter in this film: “When one note is off, it eventually destroys the whole symphony.”
Alien: Covenant is one note. And it’s way off.
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