When Ridley Scott returned as a director to the Alien franchise in 2012 — a franchise he launched so powerfully with the 1979 original – expectations were high. Prometheus, the prequel he released, was thought-provoking and compelling and it seemed like a unique step in the franchise. The movie featured some of the typical elements of the series but felt like a true and original origin story. Its sequel Alien Covenant, which just arrived in theaters, doesn’t measure up.
This sequel feels more like a traditional Alien sequel, rather than a unique entry in the long-running series.
Set ten years after the events of Prometheus, this feature introduces a new ship and crew. The ship is a colonization vessel and houses over 2000 individuals and 1140 embryos. The vessel is scheduled to land in seven years with the expectation that its inhabitants will form a new colony on a habitable planet. A malfunction, however, awakens the crew and members of the crew eventually take a detour from their mission and land on a seemingly habitable planet nearby.
Billy Crudup stars as Oram, a man unwillingly forced into a leadership position. Oram is a man of faith — as the dialogue awkwardly tells us — and he believes that his religious background limits him in the eyes of his crew. When the crew disobeys him, he sees their lack of respect for him as a consequence of their disagreements with him.
Sadly though, this idea is given little depth when the crew arrives on the mysterious planet. Soon, the team finds itself facing off against a monstrous creature intent on destroying them.
Like many of the Alien features, this one features a powerful female protagonist. Katherine Waterson plays that role here starring as Daniels, a terraforming expert who questions Oram’s abrupt decisions. Michael Fassbender returns here playing Walter, a synthetic similar in shape and form to Prometheus’ David but extremely different in personality. Danny McBride, Demián Bichir and Jussie Smollett co-star as fellow members of the crew.
In terms of the plot, the events of Alien: Covenant will feel very familiar. That should please some fans. However, the screenplay by Dante Harper and John Logan doesn’t take the important risks that many of the other films in this series took. Unlike Prometheus (and the original two films), the screenplay here is far more superficial, settling into fitting into the canon rather than expanding it.
There are hints here that the story might’ve risen to a grander height. For instance, the concept of Oram’s faith possibly alienating the crew seemed like an intriguing one but any glimpses of that idea are quickly shot away as another alien attack looms. The same goes for the relationship between Walter and another synthetic (also played by Fassbender), whose worldviews are diametrically opposed.
To his credit, director Ridley Scott knows and understands this intriguing universe he created featuring synthetics, flawed humans and horrific alien creatures. Too often though, he relies on familiar attack sequences at the expense of building strong characters. In fact, there are at least three scenes featuring aliens bursting out of their victims. For series fans, this latest sequel should be pleasing enough but for others, Alien: Covenant feels like a missed opportunity.
Review by: John Hanlon