With zero surprises, the alternate-universe origin story of Alien expands.
After the colony ship Covenant suffers damage due to an unforeseen anomaly on-route to a new homeworld, their “synthetic” named Walter (Michael Fassbender, suspiciously) wakes the crew to attend to the emergency, but the current captain is among the casualties… of course. After patching up the ship to continue their journey, a weak signal is picked up that might otherwise have been missed: a human voice singing. The origin is a planet with near Earth-like conditions that shows more promise than their actual destination — not to mention it’s a lot closer — so why hadn’t anyone discovered it before? With a weary crew of survivors still shaking from their ordeal and less willing to jump back into suspended animation for another seven years, they opt to check out the signal and a promising new world. What’s the worst that could happen? First there’s the running — and then screaming…!
2012’s Prometheus opened to mixed reviews but also genuine excitement over writer/ director /producer Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe he began. Since the original, it has expanded in various directions, including movies versus those other well-known space critters we call Predators. The original Alien lent itself more to horror than sci-fi (and even invented a few of the genre’s best-loved tropes), but exploration of the mysterious “Space Jockey” shown in passing back in 1979 must have inspired Scott with a need to fully explore it: who were the ancient astronauts infected with Aliens and shuttling them across the universe? While Prometheus explored the existential origins of humanity and offered the terrifying intent of disappointed creators, how will Covenant’s return to familiar Alien territory fare while still exploring the consequences of android David (Michael Fassbender) and his creator Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce)?
Are there finally Xenomorphs? Are they still awesome? Are characters ripped apart merely for turning the wrong corner? Yes, yes, and yes… but Mr. Scott insists that these creatures have far deeper meaning than that, so also prepare for backstory exposition, bad decisions by inexperienced crewmen, and of course betrayal. There’s a sense of Greek tragedy in all of this, gods and monsters all asking existential questions and a willingness to do whatever is necessary to further personal knowledge… and then there’s the guys just trying to find a new home and could give a rat’s ass about who-made-who. As a hard sci-fi drama merging with monster mayhem, it’s hard to look away. You know exactly what’s going to happen, but the production doesn’t seem to care — it’s not a matter of if but when.
Is there really such a thing as a bad Ridley Scott film? Maybe. There’s always something to look at and listen to, but his crusade to give meaning to his Alien monsters seems all-consuming, a metaphor for self-destruction or perhaps eventuality. It also undermines the continuity of AVP films and several Alien sequels, although it can be argued that those are all AU (alternate universe) as well. Maybe it’s all just a love letter to the works of H.R. Giger, or maybe it’s too much fluff when all we want to see is future incubators and victims masquerading as characters. While most of Covenant’s cast seems interchangeable, it does manage to make you care about the survivors of the ordeal — for a moment.
Covenant follows an eerily similar plot to the original Alien. Everyone in hypersleep before “something” happens to stop the ship and wake them? Check. A strange transmission from an unknown world drawing our heroes/victims off-mission to investigate because “it’s the right thing to do”? Check. Lamenting they should have ignored it, kept on keeping on, and hindsight being 20/20? Check. And don’t worry: it doesn’t seem as if Scott’s going to let this go as it sets up a third possible film. If you liked Prometheus, you’ll likely enjoy this. If you’re not a fan of Scott’s origin-of-the-species, you’re going to have to pick and choose your moments or skip this altogether — some things are better left unknown. At least it’s better than Passengers, right?
Alien: Covenant is rated R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language, some sexuality/ nudity, and Tennessee’s decrepit cowboy hat.
3 Skull Recommendation Out of Four