Review: “Alien: Covenant”

2 out of 5 stars.

Director Ridley Scott is clearing trying to Say Something with “Alien: Covenant,” which, although its title doesn’t make it sound that way, is actually a sequel to 2012’s “Prometheus,” which was itself a prequel to the “Alien” franchise that originated with Scott at the helm.  The adrenaline-pumping action bits that dominated the original film and one expects to go along with this sort of movie mingle with the deeper theme of the desire to create life—or just to hold on to life, in the case of the crew members who find themselves being picked off one by one by the vicious aliens.  It’s just too bad those crew members weren’t more compelling characters.

“Alien: Covenant” is set approximately a decade after the events of “Prometheus.”  The spaceship Covenant is in the middle of a several years’ journey to a new planet, Origae-6, carrying over 2,000 colonists and embryos in addition to its crew, who hope to start a new life there.  But when their ship is damaged, resulting in the death of the captain and waking all the crew up from their cryogenic sleep, they intercept a transmission that sounds human from a planet that seemingly pops up out of nowhere, but that is much closer than Origae-6 and that exhibits all the traits they would need to survive.  Despite the objections of his second-in-command, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the ship’s new captain, Oram (Billy Crudup), decides to take some of the crew down to the planet to investigate.  It isn’t long before a couple members of the crew start feeling sick, and the crew is stranded on the planet, pursued by the newly-hatched aliens.

“Alien: Covenant” has its fair share of solid action and suspenseful moments, something that “Prometheus” lacked.  But while these scenes are the most effective parts of the movie, they are all things that have been done before—and done better, by both “Alien” and its sequel, “Aliens.”  Sure, the special effects are nice, but we know from the first films in the series that this franchise doesn’t need fancy visuals to get by.  There’s also the fact that “Alien” had an extremely simple, but effective, plot.  “Covenant” continues the themes introduced to this universe by “Prometheus,” delving in to the creation of the aliens and using them as an opportunity to explore the concept of creation.  Only, this film doesn’t do that especially well.  The majority of that struggle is embodied by David (Michael Fassbender), a synthetic (aka robot that looks exactly like a human), the one returning character from “Prometheus.”  In the film’s opening scene we witness David having a discussion with his creator, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), in which Weyland tells him that they will someday look for the creator of mankind.  We also see him carrying out experiments with humans and aliens throughout the film.  But it doesn’t really lead to anything profound, or end in an “a-ha” moment for the audience.

The film’s biggest problem, however, are the characters.  There are a lot of them, but we never really get the chance to know anything about them to make them worth caring about, outside of David and Walter (also played by Fassbender), the newer synthetic model (newer primarily meaning having less human emotions than David) traveling with the Covenant crew.  Daniels is clearly meant to be the Sigourney Weaver-like protagonist, but she isn’t given much to do until the end of the film, and even then her presence is uninspired.  We know that she was married to the ship’s captain (played by James Franco in a cameo appearance), and that when they got to Origae-6 they were going to build a cabin by a lake—that’s about it.  We know that the stuffy Oram tries to balance his faith with the logic his job requires—but that’s about it (and the religious aspect never fully comes into play).  The cast also includes Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Demian Bichir, Amy Seimetz, and Jussie Smollett, all playing crew members who are not only disposable and one-dimensional, but who are also just plain dumb.  Their actions are often so dumb, in fact, it causes one to wonder how they even got selected for their jobs in the first place.  They crack under pressure, they engage with things that are obviously a trap, and it gets to the point where the audience is no longer rooting for them to survive, but rather pondering just who is going to die next, and how.

Covenant crew members on the verge of doing something stupid

“Alien: Covenant” drags on for longer than is necessary (in fact, at one point it appears to be ending, but a whole other long scene follows after the supposed climax), and at some points it just drags.  It does have enough solid action scenes to keep the viewer engaged, but this isn’t the More-Than-Just-Another-Alien-Movie that Ridley Scott seems to so badly want it to be.  In fact, you’ll get a lot more enjoyment out of watching one of those “Alien” movies instead of this one.

Runtime: 122 minutes. Rated R.

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