Alien: Covenant

alien-covenant-rev Alien: Covenant  (2017)    20th Century Fox/Sci-Fi-Horror    RT: 123 minutes    Rated R (sci-fi violence, bloody images, language, some sexuality and nudity)    Director: Ridley Scott    Screenplay: John Logan and Dante Harper    Music: Jed Kurzel    Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski    Release date: May 19, 2017 (US)    Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby, Tess Haubrich, Uli Latukefu.

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 Five summers ago (i.e. summer of ’12), the big question weighing on the minds of movie geeks everywhere was whether or not Ridley Scott’s Prometheus was a prequel to Alien, something that had been speculated even before it went into production. As you know, the answer turned out to be yes. It marked a return to form for the director of Alien and Blade Runner after a thirty-year absence from the sci-fi genre. His latest Alien: Covenant is a sequel to Prometheus and the second in a trilogy of prequels to Alien. I won’t come out and say it but I think once you read the plot description, you’ll know which of the Alien movies it’s planting seeds for. ‘Nuff said on that.

 alien-covenantI’d like to start by saying that I really like Alien: Covenant. It’s intelligent but not as thematically heavy-handed as its predecessor. It doesn’t grapple with huge questions about the origin of life or what we’d do if faced with our creator. Rather, it touches upon these issues in a vague manner so as to place the emphasis on alien creature terror. The xenomorphs we all know and love get plenty of screen time in Alien: Covenant, a solid sci-fi flick that combines the can’t-stand-it suspense of the first movie with the bad ass action of the 1986 sequel (albeit on a slightly smaller scale). It has a few pacing issues, especially around the middle, and the characters are rather flat, but it’s a nice throwback to the summer movies of yesteryear when they weren’t all soulless, made-by-committee SAVs (Sensory Assault Vehicles) that sucked all the life out of theaters.

 Ten years after the events of Prometheus, the space vessel Covenant is bound for a distant planet with 2000 colonists and 1000 embryos on board. It’ll take seven years to reach its destination so everybody is in stasis, everybody except for the android Walter (Fassbender, the X-Men movies), an upgraded version of his “brother” David from the previous movie, who tends to the day-to-day stuff on the ship. He’s forced to waken the crew from hyper-sleep when a neutrino blast hits the ship. The only one not to survive the process is the captain (an uncredited James Franco) who burns up in his pod leaving the second-in-command Oram (Crudup, 20th Century Women) in charge.

 While the crew works to repair the damage, the pilot Tennessee (McBride, Pineapple Express) intercepts a transmission from a nearby planet that appears to be inhabitable. Oram decides, against the objections of terraforming expert Daniels (Waterston, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), to send down an expedition team to locate the source of the mysterious transmission. It leads them to the crashed remains of the ship piloted by David and Dr. Elizabeth Shaw at the end of the previous movie. She died in the crash according to David (Fassbender) who’s still fully functional. I won’t say exactly what he’s been up to for the past ten years. I will that it isn’t long before the crew runs into trouble with certain nasty alien lifeforms.

 Alien: Covenant goes like this. It starts off strong, gets bogged down a bit in the middle and makes a strong comeback with a kick-ass third act. It has plenty of cool gory effects with aliens bursting from the bodies of crew members. The face-huggers are back. This is the Alien movie fans have been waiting for since Aliens thirty-one years ago. Personally, I love Alien 3 (especially the director’s cut) but I’m in the minority on that one.

 Is Alien: Covenant great? No. Is it on par with the first two movies? No, not really. One of its biggest problems is that none of the characters (with the possible exception of McBride) stand out like Brett (Harry Dean Stanton), Ash (Ian Holm), Hudson (Bill Paxton), Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) or Bishop (Lance Henriksen). The lead heroine Daniels is, at best, a pale imitation of Ellen Ripley. Oram is said to be a “man of faith” but nothing is done with it. McBride is only memorable because he usually works in comedies; his character’s most defining trait is his cowboy hat. I really couldn’t tell you anything about the others off the top of my head. As for Fassbender, he does a fine job in both roles.

 Alien: Covenant slows down in its mid-section especially in an overlong scene between Fassbender and Fassbender as they ponder life and play music on a recorder. Of course, you know that the two androids will eventually go mano-a-mano. Alien: Covenant is fairly predictable; I spotted one surprise plot twist immediately. The way it’s set up leaves no doubt as to the outcome. But I didn’t really mind. This is a well-constructed movie with a few great “BOO!” scenes, even the scene where one character takes a closer look at an alien egg. There’s also a great shower scene that plays like something from an 80s slasher flick- i.e. two characters getting it on and not noticing the tentacle at their feet. The creature effects are outstanding as are the outer space visuals and vessel interiors. With Alien: Covenant, Scott kicks it up a notch with genuine suspense, nifty scares, barf-inducing gory effects and fast-paced action. It’s a lot of fun. The ideal place to see it is in a theater on a summer night with an enthusiastic crowd. It may not be perfect but it’s as solid a sci-fi-horror-action flick as you’re likely to see this summer. 

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