A serviceable sequel to 'Prometheus' that lacks the scares of the early 'Alien' movies
Alien, The Martian and Blade Runner director Ridley Scott revisits familiar territory: science fiction and the vast unknown. Alien: Covenant, the sequel to 2012’s Prometheus, opens in a stark, clinical room. Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) is testing his latest creation—a highly advanced android that names himself David (Michael Fassbender). It is quickly apparent that David has intelligence and cognizance far exceeding Weyland’s design or intentions. This is the best and the most chilling scene of the entire film.
In the next scene, we travel years ahead and into a galaxy far away. It’s 2104 and a vast spaceship called Covenant is taking crew members, passengers and equipment to establish a new colony on a distant planet. This massive, shiny ship could well have been fitted out in the same shop where the spaceship for the Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence-starrer Passengers was designed. Indeed every outer-space film now seems to be leaning on familiar devices—the spacewalk going wrong (Gravity), the ship in distress, cryo-pods (Passengers), a mess in the quarantine chamber (Life) etc.
The only person awake on the Covenant is Walter, an android (Fassbender, again) who communicates with the ship’s programmed intelligence, referred to as the Mother. When a freak event affects the Covenant’s engineering, a number of crew members are prematurely awakened (seven years before time) from their hyper-sleep. With the deaths on board, the remaining crew is reluctant to go back into their cryo-pods preferring to follow a lead to a possible human signal on a planet that’s much closer.
It makes no sense that the advance recce team that descends on this unknown planet should not be walking around with oxygen masks or hazmat suits. Which means they are sitting ducks for an alien attack. Soon enough, Scott lets loose large-headed, slimy, parasitic creatures. If you have seen any one Alien film (prequel or sequel), you know the creatures’ modus operandi: find a human host and generate, from the inside out, and that means blood, spilled guts and much high-pitched screeching. The weaponry has not advanced much so it takes a lot of wild shooting before the alien dies. These folk have no idea how to deal with this situation.
Apart from the very first victim of its beastly intentions, Scott does not achieve the terror and suspense of the original Alien films. It’s no coincidence that the title mentions covenant: faith, creation and Biblical references abound and are seen primarily via ship’s captain Oram’s (Billy Crudup) tussle with his own shaky faith.
Expect a tone closer to Prometheus and not as chillingly scary as the Sigourney Weaver-fronted early Alien movies which first rattled us in 1979. Expect homage to Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and not Ripley (Weaver). Katherine Waterston is cast as the newest, not too squeamish and stoic, space hero. What she lacks in intensity and physicality to be convincing as an alien terminator she makes up for with sympathy. Fassbender is in fine form. The rest of the cast, some better known than others, are all rather dispensable when it comes to alien appetite. James Franco pops up in a cameo too.
A late plot ‘twist’ is as predictable as the certainty of an unwelcome guest on board the Covenant. At best Alien: Covenant is an unhurried and serviceable bridge hyper-driving to connect to the original, classic, chest-bursting Alien.