For all its technical prowess, “Alien: Covenant” falters in the same ways its prequel predecessor “Prometheus” did — ludicrous situations.
Would you go on a mysterious planetoid without helmets or some protection? C’mon! That’s how the insidious alien life forms find an “in” with several astronauts on a colony ship.
Soon, it’s a slimy, bloody gut-busting jubilee as those evil beings grow faster than your grass after rain.
Fans of the original 1979 sci-fi horror stunner — a certifiable classic — will recall the sheer terror of watching John Hurt’s death from the alien growing inside.
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Naturally, fans now expect grisly deaths and increased mayhem caused by the trademark face-huggers and grotesque extra-terrestrials in each subsequent chapter. But in this series’ sixth film, director Ridley Scott goes for bigger and bolder shocks without investing us in the characters or ramping up the suspense that made the first two so chilling.
“Covenant” takes up 10 years after the doomed Prometheus spaceship discovered an ancient civilization during their voyage — and 20 years before the vessel “Sulaco” of “Alien.” “Prometheus,” the 2012 prequel, was incoherent and dark, with characters making illogical moves. This installment is nearly as confusing — and it’s just gross, too.
This new crew, including married couples, is awakened early by a malfunction, and calamities ensue quickly. First casualty is the ship’s captain Branson — James Franco, in a cameo, seen in flashback. The devout Oram (Billy Crudup) takes over while Branson’s grieving widow Daniels (Katherine Waterston) is comforted by the synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender). They must go on, as danger lurks on and off their ark.
In a screenplay template similar to Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” these scientists that we barely know are brutally killed by the horrible creatures. If we could tell them apart, perhaps we would care more.
In its favor, the film features state-of-the-art visual effects, a few harrowing action scenes, and crisp cinematography. Its saving grace is the acting, however, primarily Fassbender, who is again the ensemble’s MVP, just as he was in “Prometheus.”
Here, he plays the dual role of the newer, sharper synthetic Walter and the more cunning older model David. Except for a ridiculous scene where the master teaches the pupil how to play a recorder, the guy is truly masterful at conveying dialogue — both innocent and menacing. He only can do so much with what he is given to work with, and always makes a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
Also faring well is Waterston (“Fantastic Beasts”) as the feisty Daniels. She is not as ground-breaking as Sigourney Weaver’s fierce Ripley, one of cinema’s all-time great female roles, but holds her own battling the nasty critters. The movie’s best stunt work involves her character being tossed around like an amusement park ride.
Most surprising is Danny McBride — yes, the comic actor primarily known for playing doofus parts such as “Eastbound and Down” — in a dramatic turn as the good ol’ boy pilot Tennessee. His quips are smart and his actions impressive.
The rest of the characters are honestly indistinguishable, except for a few confrontations Crudup has with David and his shipmates.
Much of the dialogue is snappy, thanks to co-screenwriters John Logan, the renowned Tony-winning playwright, and novice Dante Harper, producer-turned-writer. But the story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green, who wrote the duds “Transcendence” and “Green Lantern” respectively, isn’t up to the standards one expects to advance such a legendary series.
Plans are for a prequel trilogy, but if the next one limps along, maybe it’s time to ground the explorations after 38 years.
- Stars: ☆ and a half
- Director: Ridley Scott
- Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Callie Hernandez, Carmen Ejogo and Jussie Smollet
- Rated: R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity
- Length: 2:02