When a movie crash lands due to its own misguidedness, the common question is, “What were the filmmakers thinking?” In the case of Alien: Covenant, we know exactly what Ridley Scott was thinking because he won’t stop broadcasting the film’s metaphors or applauding the foreshadowing long enough to let it tell a worthwhile story. If you were hoping that the sequel to Prometheus would further explore the mystery of humanity’s extraterrestrial creators while toning down the frustrating and pointless ambiguity of Damon Lindelof’s script, you’re in for a disappointment. Alien: Covenant is all of the frustration of Prometheus with none of the atmosphere or intrigue.
R, 123 minutes
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema
Abandoning the pretension of Prometheus, which swore up and down it was not a prequel to the Alien films, Alien: Covenant picks up after the events of its predecessor, as the colony ship Covenant heads to a new planet to establish human civilization. An unpredictable incident wakes the crew and kills the captain in his stasis pod, leaving First Mate Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge of a crew that does not trust him or understand his “faith” (which is left vague).
While repairing the ship, the crew intercepts a strange message of human origin from a planet well-suited for human life, which they can explore with only a slight detour. Oram decides to investigate against the wishes of his second-in-command Dany Branson (Katherine Waterston), and before long, they uncover a horrific truth about what might have been their new home.
Michael Fassbender stars in two roles, David from the previous film and Walter, an upgraded model after humans found David’s behavior disturbing. He was the best part of Prometheus—or at least the most consistent —and so it is in Alien: Covenant. As different versions of the same creation, he represents two of mankind’s most irreconcilable traits: the desire to create and the need for stability. David is driven to tears by the creation of something truly new, whether it is the music of Wagner, the poetry of Shelley or the fusion of two species that results from the xenomorph’s reproductive process. The revelation of what David has been doing on this planet all these years is perhaps the strongest moment of Covenant, full of the drippy, phobic horror that is worthy of the name Alien.
The revelation of what David has been doing on this planet all these years is perhaps the strongest moment of Covenant, full of the drippy, phobic horror that is worthy of the name Alien.
Yes, the iconic beast makes its return here, a strange decision considering the majority of the film has little in common with the original series. The prequel series strives to be philosophical and sophisticated, a commentary on our paradoxical nature rather than our survival instinct. The xenomorph in this film has more human attributes than before, an excellent design choice that is used effectively only once in a scene between it and David. Before long, it is just another space monster that could have been in any movie at all. Even the planet they’re stranded on is just a lot of trees rather than the allure of the desert in Prometheus. There is a well-designed abandoned alien city, but nothing is made of it emotionally, and even less is explained narratively.
The best aspects of Covenant focus on the interplay between David and Walter, one designed to serve humanity and the other intent on transcending it. Their scenes together (which are in fact Fassbender acting against himself) ought to have been the main focus.
The rest of the talented supporting cast, which includes Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Demián Bichir and James Franco (momentarily), plays instantly forgettable characters whose deaths are more memorable than anything else. Scott clearly still has a lot of ideas, energy and enthusiasm for this prequel series, yet the hope for future installments is bleak when the first film lost its way and the second never found it.
Playing this week
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
Baywatch, Beauty and the Beast, Born in China, The Boss Baby, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, Everything, Everything, The Fate of the Furious, Gifted, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Snatched, The Wall
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
A Quiet Passion, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, Everything, Everything, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, The Lost City of Z, Snatched