Del reviews ‘Alien: Covenant’

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

“Alien: Covenant” Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBridge, Demian Bichir. Directed by Ridley Scott. 122 minutes. Rated R.

Del’s take

“Alien: Covenant” is probably the movie you wish “Prometheus” had been.

It has a lot going for it: Storytelling is slick and efficient, eschewing junked-up plots and mystical mumbo-jumbo. Characterization is improved, with believable people speaking believable lines. And it does a creditable job of untangling the execrable birds’ nest of plotlines and unanswered questions presented by the afore-mentioned predecessor.

Director Ridley Scott sticks with the familiar and tries to evoke the grime and claustrophobia of “Alien,” while at the same time throwing in the rough-hewn desperation of “Aliens.” That’s where “Covenant” goes awry. In parts it is not so much an homage to the first two and best entries in the “Alien” canon but a blatant ripoff worthy of a J.J. Abrams flick.

Still, it’s not a bad movie and it puts the “Alien” franchise back on course with the possibility of future interesting sequels. For those all these reasons you should see it.

The movie stars Michael Fassbender as David or, schizophrenically, Walter, the yin and the yang of the story’s synthetic characters. Walter is a newer, more hepped up version of David who, unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view, has been stripped of his ability to “create.” That ability also prevents him from slaughtering human beings; feel free to decide if that’s a good or bad thing. I personally feel it’s bad, but hey – no judgments here.

Walter is on board a colony ship headed for a distant planet when suddenly a neutrino storm strikes and the ship is disabled. The crewmembers are awakened from their hibernation pods to deal with the crisis and discover a closer planet more conducive to life. They are made aware of its existence by an incoming signal.

Hmmm. Where have we seen THAT before?

Upon awakening Katherine Waterston, who plays Daniels, almost immediately becomes the victim of a tragedy, one that ultimately brings the entire ship, crew and passengers into the jaws of peril. The tragedy potential is compounded when the decision is made to check out this signal, and this great new party spot on this interstellar pub crawl.

They land on a stormy planet to find a shattered city and the mummified corpses of thousands of its residents, the tall beings from “Prometheus.” Oh, and there’s another weird wreck of a U-shaped spaceship and finally David, who has lived here over the 10 years since the Prometheus disappeared.

They say idle hands are the devil’s playthings, and David has been very, very idle, or should we say very, very busy. Busy with what I won’t say, because that represents an answer to a critical question and it sets up the premise of the sequel. Suffice it to say Walter’s creators had good reason to leave out his creativity chip.

Apart from an opening soliloquy which could have been omitted without any loss to the film, “Covenant” moves along at a brisk pace, alternating between explanation and action. It does not feel like a two-hour movie. Scott, when he isn’t hobbled by a crappy screenplay, can still direct a lean and mean fighting machine of a film.

Fassbender is again superb as David and Walter, slipping back and forth between a polished Oxford and Midwest twang of accents with ease. Waterston is a kind of Signourney Weaver lite trying to fill the Ripley bandolier, but she doesn’t quite carry it off. Billy Crudup makes for a good sniveling Oram, the indecisive, overly religious mission commander who wants the crew to both love and respect him and succeeds at neither, The others are functionally cannon fodder who do rise above their meager contributions, so overall the acting component is effective.

The problem with “Covenant” is that it harkens back too often and too distinctly to “Alien” and “Aliens.” Let me count some of the ways:

1. The crew is summoned to an alien moon by a signal of unknown origin – check.

2. Crawling through dark passageways lit by strobes and punctuated by screaming alarms – check.

3. A rough ride to the surface in a drop ship led by a cowardly commander – check.

4. A tough female lead telling her fellow survivors, “We will seal off the accessways hatch by hatch and blow this motherfucker into outer space” – check.

5. The same tough female lead doing battle with the monster using a large piece of equipment – check.

Even the soundtrack borrows heavily from “Alien,” “Aliens” and “Prometheus.”

There were moments when I thought I was watching Ripley do battle with her extraterrestrial antagonist – THAT’s how similar the tone, pacing and more subtle ingredients, like color palette, were to those earlier movies.

That’s a problem for “Covenant” because those elements don’t mix well. “Alien” and “Aliens,” while sharing a similar premise, are two dramatically different movies, each with its own formulary for pacing and tension. You can’t blend the two and come away with a terrific cinematic experience no more than you can blend a pizza with a cheesecake and come away with a terrific gastronomic experience.

“Covenant” achieves a kind of limited success by answering questions and propelling the series into the realm of sequels, but its reliance on what has come before renders it into a derivative mashup that handicaps its ranking in the “Alien” pantheon. Of all the movies I would rate “Alien” the best with “Aliens” running a very close second. “Alien 3” was essentially a music video that nonetheless had an interesting look and feel, although it squandered all the grandeur of its predecessors. The Winona Ryder “Alien” was insipid and banal, and “Prometheus” was an unmitigated disaster.

Therefore I would place “Covenant” at a distant third on the list, and give it a generous grade of B.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.


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