Alien: Covenant is the second instalment in the “Alien” prequel series and the sixth film in the franchise overall. Its director Ridley Scott’s follow-up to his 2012 film “Prometheus,” and the origin story for one of the most fearsome alien species ever, the Xenomorph.
Led by the pious first mate Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), the colony ship Covenant hurtles trough space to planet Origae-6, an Eden that offers a chance at a new life in the first large scale colonization mission.
Laden with crew—including android Walter (Michael Fassbender), terraforming expert Daniels (Katherine Waterston), biologist Karine (Carmen Ejogo) and crewman Tennessee (Danny McBride)—2000 settlers and 1000 embryos, the spaceship is damaged by an energy surge. During repairs they intercept a mysterious radio transmission from a nearby planet that suggests better living conditions may be just around the corner. Abandoning their original course, an exploratory crew is sent down. On the ground they discover breathable air, wheat, the only survivor of the ill-fated Prometheus mission, an android named David (Fassbender again) but Daniels is concerned. “Do you hear that?” she says. “There’s nothing. No birds, no animals. Nothing. What happened here?” Of course there is life on the planet, life in the form of nasty face-hugging, chest-bursting aliens.
All great sci-fi has to have a bedrock of strong ideas but this is an “Alien” movie, can’t we have a better balance between ideas and action? Scott kicks things off, appropriately enough (given the movie’s plot) with Richard Wagner’s “Entering of the Gods into Valhalla,” a stirring number that thematically sets up the story of Xenomorphs and a search for a new promised land. There is talk of creation—Where do we come from? We can’t be random molecules thrown together by chance—how humans may have already blown their one and only shot at existence (“Why give them a second chance?”), android love and whether it is better to serve in heaven or reign in hell.
Grand ideas one and all and each seems to take on more import as they are filtered through Scott’s dark and dreary atmospherics. It’s moody, with a growing sense of what is to come, but it takes almost an hour for the first alien to burst (in rather bloody spectacular fashion) onto the screen. In that time there are loads of cool images, Scott is genetically wired to make great looking movies—witness the beautiful and delicate way the alien spores are dispatched—but the film is at its best when the slimy Xenomorphs are involved which, unfortunately, isn’t enough of the time.
From the way the crew banters to the space intrigue to the chest bursting “Alien: Covenant” feels more like a throwback to the original films than to “Prometheus.” There’s more dark humour–“How do you know you’re infected?” “You’d know by now.”—and when Scott revs up the action there are some truly horrifying moments, but because much of the crew are the equivalent of “Star Trek” redshirts the alien kills don’t have much emotional impact.
“Alien: Covenant” is well made, although Scott over shoots the climatic cat-and-mouse-game, but feels perfunctory in the scheme of things. It tries to freshen up the formula—no spoilers here but the Xenomorphs aren’t the only villains—but despite the injection of a good dose of philosophy is still essentially a “run away from the monster!!!” movie we’ve seen before and better.