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One of the selling features of Prometheus, the Alien reboot of sorts from 2012, was how it worked so hard to feel like anything but an Alien reboot, mostly abandoning the core tropes of the franchise in trying to bring some larger themes into the story, asking questions about the very point of our existence. While that film was flawed and drew mixed reactions from critics and audiences, the long-awaited follow-up attempts to fill in a few gaps though instead of venturing into further unknowns, returns to its roots in a movie that is strikingly similar to the very first, even as it toys with something bigger.
With intent, Prometheus left us with a lot of questions, and for fans hoping for answers in this sequel, well, there are some issues, and in the end, even more things left unsaid. While that film ended with David (Michael Fassbender), a humanoid android, and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), the only human survivor of that mission, racing off into space to find their makers, Covenant starts with a whole new crew, ten years later, on a mission to colonize a distant planet. With them is Walter (Fassbender), a next generation android, and he’s the only one not in stasis when an accident damages the vessel and kills, among others, the captain (James Franco, who is in the film for less than a minute). With things in chaos, they suddenly receive a human signal from a nearby planet that had not been charted before, and so head to explore, but what they find is an Eden soaked in horror.
Directed by Ridley Scott, Alien: Covenant is a scattershot of great moments and a few letdowns, a film that capitalizes well on what came before while tripping up on ideas that don’t quite have the impact they should. Scott does production like no other, and Covenant is another magnificent-looking experience, the ship and planets and set designs all visually wondrous to look at, his attention to detail some of the best things about any film he commits to. However, like many of his films, there are issues with character development and logic, and as with Prometheus, choices are made that weaken potentially-stirring moments in service to something else, in this case, the monsters themselves. People make the most frustratingly irrational decisions throughout, ones that by the very definition of the characters in the story, should not be made, and yet continue to happen, making many significant parts of the film ones of tropes rather than innovation.
The plot sticks closely to the original 1979 classic, though a key moment in the second half dramatic shifts attention from that theme and onto a familiar face, and this is where the movie will divide audiences further as it essentially strips the alien xenomorphs of their role as the story’s main antagonists, even as we discover much about who made them and how they evolved, one of the better parts of the story. The movie instead becomes an exercise on the moralities of android creation and what they are to each other and humans, and while that is certainly good stuff to learn about, those looking for answers on who the Engineers are and what happened after Prometheus will have to wait. We do get a brief glimpse of these people, and yet the ten years in the timeline from then to now is almost entirely avoided and we walk away with few answers as to why things have happened as they have.
Still, the film is full of strong performances, with Fassbender exceptionally effective and Katherine Waterston as Daniels, the standouts, while others such as Billy Crudup and Danny McBride are memorable, too. They all take it very seriously, as they should, and we gain some necessary investment in their fates, though the movie is strangely lacking in urgency, despite a few high-energy set-pieces that work very well, including a sensational sequence on the ground with the crew’s first introduction to the xenomorphs. It’s a visceral moment, much like the surgery scene in Prometheus that will ultimately define these modern iterations. While the movie is streaked with tiny cracks, mostly with characters and pacing, it is nonetheless an engaging and entertaining movie that feels like just what it is intended to be, a connective thread to a story that is still being spun.
Movie description: Alien: Covenant is a 2017 sci-fi thriller about a group of human colonist on a mission to populate a new planet who come upon an uncharted paradise, only to discover the unlikeliest of survivors and unimaginable horrors.
Director(s): Ridley Scott
Actor(s): Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup
Genre: Sci-fir, thriller