Do you think that somewhere, there’s a Twentieth Century Fox Executive kicking himself for not just giving Ridley Scott the money he wanted to make a sci-fi movie about the origin of intelligent life and the concept of meeting one’s creator? Maybe then we wouldn’t be here now, watching him tank the “Alien” franchise into the ground as he tries to keep the franchise-focussed suits happy while exploring his own philosophical vanity project.
Ten years after the Prometheus expedition was lost, the colony ship USCSS Covenant, carrying 2,000 passengers and some 1,000 embryos is bound for Origae-6. When the ship is hit by a powerful neutrino burst, damaging the ship and killing some of the cryogenically frozen passengers, the android caretaker Walter (Michael Fassbender) is compelled to revive the crew. Once repairs are completed, the crew detect a faint transmission from a nearby planet, a planet which will take mere days to reach and which offers the prospect of a new home much sooner than the still years away Origae-6. But, unbeknownst to the would-be colonists, the planet is already inhabited.
There’s a conflicted feeling to “Alien: Covenant”, an almost petulant defiance from director Ridley Scott as he determinedly hits his cherished metaphysical and ideological beats whilst at the same time – clearly stung by some of the criticism meted out to “Prometheus” – an eagerness to placate the fans by returning to some of the Alien franchise’s hallmarks. At times, “Alien: Covenant” feels a lot like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in its shameless borrowing and remixing of the greatest hits of the entire series. Each of the first five “Alien” movies gets a nod and a reimagining here, some more successfully than others but disappointingly it’s once the xenomorph finally rears its head (nearly an hour into the film) that “Covenant” stops being interesting and becomes predictable and – most shocking of all – occasionally laughable.
There’s an extended sequence on the landing shuttle where the team encounter their first alien creature as it makes its way (through the spine this time) into the world which is clearly meant to be visceral and gory and terrifying but there’s just so much stupidity and clumsiness on show that you’re fighting the temptation to mentally rescore events with ‘Yakety Sax’ and call the whole thing “Carry On Xenomorph”. I’ve watched a few of the “Alien” films in the cinema and this is the only one where the audience laughed out loud not once but at least three times (one of those times being when David (Michael Fassbender) told Walter (also Michael Fassbender) to hold his flute in a particular way while he teaches him to finger it properly, which brings us right back to “Carry On Xenomorph”).
Fassbender’s double duty as both androids is, expectedly, one of the film’s strengths. Of the rest of the cast, Danny McBride impresses but Katherine Waterston is a disappointingly pale imitation of Ripley, her grit and courage alternating with wobbly-lipped, dewy-eyed mopiness in an arbitrary and often contradictory manner. The rest of the crew are basically cannon fodder; along for the ride and almost comically willing and eager to be killed off.
It would seem that the key lesson the USCS took from the disappearance of the Prometheus was safety. Clearly, there was too much safety. So now, we have a landing on an uncharted planet with no thought for spacesuits or environmental testing for contaminants or contagions before going wandering around. Even when one or two of the landing party starts to feel a bit peaky, nobody seems too concerned. There’s a moment when David declares that humanity is a doomed species but I think that humanity back on Earth is doing just fine because they’re clearly rounding up all the stupidest people and sending them off into space to Make It Great Again.
Admittedly, “Alien: Covenant” looks spectacular, because, duh, Ridley Scott, but there’s a hollowness to the whole thing which a portentous and pretentious script flatters to deceive. The set up for the sequel/ third prequel is so archly obvious that it’s likely to provoke eye rolls instead of gasps when our dim-witted heroes figure it out and because the film has little originality to offer beyond a brief and underwhelming xenomorph POV sequence, the only reason you’ll be on the edge of your seat come the end is that you’ll be eager to get on your way home.