Mark Reviews Movies

Alien: Covenant


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby, Uli Latukefu, Tess Haubrich, the voice of Lorelei King

MPAA Rating: R (for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity)

Running Time: 2:02

Release Date: 5/19/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 18, 2017

If the ambitious but disjointed Prometheus was about a fruitless search for a creator, then Alien: Covenant offers the next logical step after the failure of that search. Basically, if the creator is nonexistent or a disappointment, there's a gap that must be filled. Someone—or something—inevitably will fill that gap.

This installment is, itself, filling a gap between its immediate predecessor from 2012 and the original Alien. The story of the circumstances that resulted in the ill-fated venture to an alien world in the 1979 film still isn't clear by the end of this one, but this new series is getting closer to explaining how those pods, filled with murderous and rapidly evolving aliens, ended up on that moon. That element—the how—of the story is inherently uninteresting (The two major reasons for that are: 1.) Why does it matter, and 2.) isn't the mystery more engaging than the explanation?). Director Ridley Scott's second prequel, though, is far less concerned with the how and far more intrigued by the why.

The film not only takes its predecessor's premise to the next logical step (and deviously twists the entire concept of a "creator"), but it also does a reversal of the previous movie's intentions. That one played as a thoughtful piece of science-fiction, in which the horror elements eventually revealed themselves (From another perspective, the horror felt like an afterthought). This one plays as a horror film, and from those elements, the ideas come. There's none of the teasing in which Prometheus indulged. From its title to its familiar production design to the basic structure of the plot, this is unabashedly an entry in the Alien series. That results in another, albeit lesser, issue: It plays as just another installment in this series.

The central idea of creation begins at the start, with a prologue that explores the relationship between the android David (Michael Fassbender) and his creator (an uncredited Guy Pearce). It ends with a dilemma of sorts, in which the artificial creation points out that the creator has made an entity that surpasses humanity in a number of ways—particularly in that the android is immortal. The human answers that dilemma by asserting David's role as a servant to his creator, ordering the android for a cup of tea before it gets any bright ideas about its role in the universe.

Ten years after the events of the previous movie, a spaceship filled with slumbering humans and frozen human embryos is taking a long trek to a distant world in order to establish a colony there. Only Walter (also played by Fassbender), the ship's android, is awake. During a routine recharge of the batteries, a random burst of energy damages the ship, awakening the crew. There are some casualties, including the vessel's captain, making Oram (Billy Crudup), a man of faith (whose religion doesn't come into play at all), the new commander and Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the deceased captain's widow, next in line.

A transmission comes through the ship's radio. It's a human voice, singing a recognizable song. Scanners detect that the transmission is coming from a habitable planet nearby, and Oram decides that they will attempt to establish the colony there, instead of their assigned destination.

Despite the lush vegetation and plentiful water, it should come as no surprise that the planet isn't nearly as hospitable as it first appears. Pretty quickly, the film turns into a horror show, with the airborne, microscopic spores from a plant on the planet serving as the way those killer aliens end up in their human hosts (Scott offers a microscope-level shot of the infection entering a crewmember's body through his ear canal, which is simultaneously frightening and deviously amusing). The lesser-recognizable members of the cast start to fall first, of course, and soon enough, those familiar aliens are running wild on the planet, growing rapidly, and attacking the rest of the crew.

It's effective, if a bit too familiar. A most welcome shift in purpose comes with the reappearance of David, who has been living alone on the planet for a decade. You may recall, of course, that the android had company at the end of his previous adventure, but she has died (The circumstances of her death are best left unsaid for a couple of reasons). Having once considered himself to be a perfect creation, David since has learned better, although he has taken the worst possible lesson from it, if a flashback to a haunting sequence of mass genocide is any indication.

John Logan and Dante Harper's screenplay spends a considerable amount of time with David, as he relates what he has been doing since arriving on this world. David was the most fascinating of the previous movie's characters—an artificial entity with dual secret goals, one known only by its creator and the other only known by itself. As an entity that has blurred the lines between creation and destruction in order to create the perfection that it is not, the android remains this film's most fascinating—and, apart from the aliens, terrifying—character.

In terms of plot, David's presence here clearly helps to bring the prequel series closer to the original film, but the character never feels like a plot device. The android's motives and actions become the film's driving thematic force, as well as its cold heart and nihilistic mind. The story of Alien: Covenant may follow what seems like a blueprint at this point (especially when the survivors return to the ship), but the film provides a tantalizing combination of effective horror and troubling ideas.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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