Well, I went into Alien: Covenant not expecting much, and my expectations were met. After the sense of humor and easy storytelling that marked Ridley Scott’s previous effort The Martian, returning to the Alien series sure seemed like a way to get the director back to the self-serious lethargy that has plagued his late career. And so it is.
The story picks up in 2104 in a ship called the Covenant carrying 2,000 colonists to a new planet. The crew of 15 people are awakened early from their cryogenic sleep by a solar flare that knocks out vital systems on the ship and kills the captain (an uncredited James Franco). His widow Daniels (Katherine Waterston) has to take point as the ship receives an audio signal from a planet not too far removed from their present location.
Scott has admitted he dived too deep into the origin story of the aliens and their creators when he directed Prometheus. Indeed, any time spent with the backstory is just filler, and yet we still get an indecipherable prologue involving Prometheus‘ David (Michael Fassbender) talking to his creator Weyland (an uncredited Guy Pearce). David surfaces again when he turns out to be the source of the signal, much to the surprise of the Covenant‘s crew, which includes a lookalike android named Walter (also Fassbender). The script offers us some noise about how the English-accented David might team up with the American-accented Walter, but from the second we see two Fassbenders sharing the screen, we know they’re going to fight each other to the death.
Too much else about this movie is similarly predictable. After all, we know that the movie is taking place before the events of the 1979 original, so the humans can’t just kill the aliens. When David invites the new captain, Oram (Billy Crudup), to look into one of the alien’s opening egg sacs, we know that Oram has no reason to be suspicious, yet he still comes off like an idiot because of what we know from the previous films. Scott has publicly said he’s trying to take the series back to its horror-movie roots, but his instincts in that department have deserted him here. None of the scenes where the aliens hunt down the crew members ping the same fears as the ones in the first two movies or even Prometheus.
To make matters worse, the crew members aren’t interesting. This is the second blockbuster film Waterston has taken lead in (after Fantastic Beasts), and I’ve found her underwhelming in both instances. That can’t bode well. Fassbender’s David makes a one-note villain here, and his Walter is even weaker as a foil. Other interesting actors like Demián Bichir, Amy Seimetz, and Jussie Smollett wind up as fodder for the xenomorphs, and even Danny McBride gets few opportunities to wisecrack as a Stetson-wearing pilot named Tennessee. Throughout this series, even its most frustrating installments (like the maligned Alien: Resurrection) gave me something to think about. Alien: Covenant washed over me and left me thinking, “Eh.”
Starring Katherine Waterston and Michael Fassbender. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by John Logan and Dante Harper. Rated R.