Alien: Covenant concerns the fate of a colony ship a little over seven years from its intended destination. While making repairs following an disastrous encounter with a neutrino pulse, the crew encounters a transmission that seems to be coming from a human source. Tracing the transmission leads them to a previously uncharted habitable planet. The crew sends a landing party to investigate, hoping to find the source of the signal, and maybe cut some years off of their interstellar trip by colonizing this planet instead. What they find, of course, is something much more dangerous than they could have ever imagined.Prometheus, the 2012 prequel to Alien, took the franchise in a decidedly different direction. It veered away from the immediacy of violent horror largely in favor of big, ponderous sci-fi concepts regarding man’s place in the universe. This movie, which is pretty much a direct sequel to Prometheus, hews a bit closer to what made people fall in love with the franchise in the first place, though on a much larger, big budget scale. But it seems clear that director Ridley Scott just isn’t as interested in the monster that he brought to life all those years ago. His mind is on other things, and that lessens the film’s impact considerably.On the surface, the movie seems to be going back to basics. It’s about a spacefaring crew of humans taking on an unknown threat, with one particularly kickass female crew member forced into taking the reins when things go bad. There are plenty of scenes in dark, confined spaces where these hapless humans are confronted with the horrific creature (or some variation of it) that we have all come to know and love. But it also features more high-minded concerns, funneling larger themes hinted at in Prometheus through a character with a direct connection to that previous film.What the film ends up doing is providing even more explanation concerning the origins of the iconic monster. And the answers that come are pretty unsatisfying. The film ends up having to spend time on lengthy conversations that mostly serve to make an elegant things more needlessly complicated. Again: more Prometheus than Alien, a difference in philosophies emerging in the kind of stories that those two titles imply. And while some of it is interesting in concept, it hobbles the narrative, especially as the film invites comparisons to the simplicity of the 1979 film.To its credit, the movie looks pretty good. And even as the scale increases, Scott seems to apply the same sensibilities to his action. A Xenomorph attack is violent and disorienting. No matter how crazy things get, it all boils down to the strength of human determination. The film also benefits from a terrific cast. The characters are a little underwritten, but the actors do wonders with everything they’re given. Katherine Waterston brings a different shade of compelling competence to her character. And Michael Fassbender makes some of the weirdest material sing.Alien: Covenant offers a fair approximation of what made the 1979 film so memorable, but it combines it with some of the worst impulses of 2012’s Prometheus. What we get is a decidedly mixed bag: a movie as prone to visceral surprise as it is to droning conversations that give answers to questions we weren’t really asking, tearing away at the mysterious nature of one of cinema’s most iconic threats. But through it all, this is a handsome, competent production that features some great performances. It doesn’t quite have the effect of the best of the series, but it would be hard to say that this was all badly done.
ALIEN: COVENANT IS OPENING ON MAY 10, 2017, IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.