Review of “Alien: Covenant”

A group of colonists are in cryo-sleep on board a massive spaceship called Covenant. Keeping an eye on things while everyone is asleep is a synthetic human called Walter (Michael Fassbender). The artificial intelligence that handles most ship functions called MOTHER informs Walter a storm of charged particles is about to hit the ship. The particle wave causes several systems to fail and endangers the 2000 colonists on board. Walter orders MOTHER to wake the crew that will be in charge of landing the ship on the new planet when they arrive in about 7 years. One of the pods catches fire killing the captain of the mission. Second in command Oram (Billy Crudup) takes over while the original captain’s wife Daniels (Katherine Waterston) is second. While repairing the damage to the ship a garbled message is received. Covenant pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride) recognizes part of the sound in the message as the song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” so it must have come from a human source. The crew is able to trace the message to a planet that is just a few weeks away and appears far more Earth-like than their original destination. Captain Oram orders the ship to change course for this new planet instead of their original target despite the objections of Daniels. A landing craft sets down on the planet and a search begins for the source of the message. Very soon things begin to go horribly wrong.

“Alien: Covenant” is the second of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” prequel series. According to the Wikipedia article on this movie, the script for the next installment has already been written with filming schedule to begin in 2018. Scott appears to have a great deal of faith in his earlier works as a sequel to “Blade Runner” is coming out later this year (Scott is a producer on that project). Perhaps Scott would be better advised to concentrate on original projects rather than revisiting his past as “Alien: Covenant,” while I enjoyed it, doesn’t seem like it is a fully realized vision.

Yes, I did enjoy “Alien: Covenant” but it didn’t quite hit all the right spots for me. First off, the screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper is a heavily layered and frequently impenetrable, offering scenes that don’t feel finished leaving questions dangling everywhere. I don’t mind that a movie fails to tidily wrap up all its loose ends but I do prefer knowing more about the story at the end than I did at the beginning. I can’t really say that about “Alien: Covenant.” Perhaps when the next two installments (yes, Ridley Scott plans on at least four films before connecting the story to the original “Alien”) are released we’ll finally have a fully fleshed out narrative that allows the audience to leave the theatre with all their questions answered; however, I’m not sure movie goers are willing to wait for another five to seven years to figure out just what is going on in the “Alien” universe.

It also doesn’t help that the most interesting character in the movie is Walter the android (or synthetic as he’s referred to in the film). There are small attempts to at least differentiate between the characters by giving them their minor quirks or trademarks. For instance, Oram complains that he wasn’t originally put in command because he is a person of faith and Tennessee wears a beat up straw hat. Other than that, all the characters are mostly interchangeable with no one standing out. Even this film’s Sigourny Weaver, Katherine Waterston’s Daniels, could have just as easily been played by any other member of the cast.

Michael Fassbender is the only member of the cast that really shines and his performance is so memorable because he has to play the synthetic Walter so buttoned down and within himself. There are flashes of personality but even those feel programmed and mechanical. While it won’t win any Oscars, Fassbender can be proud of the work he does in “Alien: Covenant.”

“Alien: Covenant” is rated R for language, bloody images, sci-fi violence and some sexuality/nudity. The birth of alien creatures in all their forms involves lots of spurting blood and ruptured flesh. The creatures are shot at in a couple of scenes. There is also a fight involving two characters and neither of them is alien. A scene late in the film shows a couple in a shower together kissing and preparing to have sex. There is a brief glimpse of a woman’s bare breast. Foul language is scattered throughout the film.

There probably will never be a film about the Xenomorphs that is as tense or scary as the original “Alien.” That film was, for its time, the pinnacle of suspense and fear in movies. Turning it into an old fashioned monster shoot-em-up in “Aliens” took the series in a new and crowd-pleasing direction but didn’t involve Ridley Scott at all. Scott seems intent on making sure all future films about the meanest creature in movies have his signature stamp of seriousness. That’s fine but he also needs to make sure the films make sense from a story perspective and provide some answers to hold us over until the next installment. While “Alien: Covenant” puts some gore and suspense back into the franchise, the story leaves far too many unanswered questions in its wake to be a truly satisfying experience.

“Alien: Covenant” gets three stars out of five.

This week, the Memorial Day holiday has two new movies to choose from. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Baywatch—

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

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