It’s no wonder “Alien: Covenant’s” title changed from “Paradise Lost.” All the promise from its “Prometheus” predecessor is hard to find in this return-to-gory sequel.
Ten years after Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and android David (Michael Fassbender) set flight seeking the engineers behind our existence, the crew of the Covenant is sailing space for their own colony: the one they hope to create.
But whereas Cortez burned his ships to motivate his 16th-century colonizers, a fire aboard the Covenant results in the loss of both leadership and love. Oram (Billy Crudup) takes over for the former whereas Daniels (Elizabeth Waterston) is left stranded by the latter—and the two must find common ground on whether to follow a signal their ship received during its distress.
Like in “Prometheus,” faith factors in to their expedition leader’s decision. But this is “Alien,” so of course they will reap his leap.
The suspense director Ridley Scott has down to a science. The birthing scene in “Prometheus” pales to what is broodingly born during “Alien: Covenant’s” opening crawl. And after answering a curious casting question from its precursor, “Covenant” introduces its own star-studded cast of Fassbender, Crudup, Waterston, and the surprisingly dramatically adept Danny McBride.
Amid early adversity, their family has real chemistry. Their film, however, quickly becomes all too formulaic.
After the Covenant crew arrives at their new destination, thoughtful exposition is sacrificed for emotionless action. It’s classic sequelitis, akin to “The Lost World’s” failure to build upon the more cerebral aspects of its “Jurassic” forebear.
When the “Xenomorph” burst through John Hurt’s chest in 1979’s “Alien,” it was met with shock and horror. “Covenant,” on the other hand, with its comically chintzy computer graphics and all-too predictable perishing (and ending), brings to mind Hurt’s reaction amid his reprising fate in Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs”: “Oh no, not again.”
Most refreshing about “Prometheus” was that it was different. And the 2012 series starter is certainly not without its own frustrating, head-scratching issues. “Alien: Covenant,” however, attempts to right all the wrong wrongs.
Upon “Prometheus’s” announced production, Scott firmly declared it was not an “Alien” prequel. And it’s not. But the “Alien” anthology’s face-hugging followers wanted the tie-in—and got it with “Covenant.” If anything, the covenantal agreement is not in the film; it is the film. To fans it pledges: Give money, get “Alien.”
They got it alright, including a rehashed “Alien”-style score, uninspired “Aliens”-inspired action, and a lazy “Alien 3”-esque off-screen demise for one pivotal character. It even manages to incorporate thematic strands from “Alien: Resurrection’s” messy genetic code. David’s dual droids, meanwhile, are an outdated gimmick already seen in many a sci-fi film, and in trying to be both fragile Shaw and fighter Ripley, Waterston’s Daniels fails at being unforgettable.
The only interestingly original moments in “Alien: Covenant” are when we get glimpses into “Paradise.” But that “Prometheus” sequel was lost in space so that “Alien: Covenant” could return to the anthology’s heart and soul.
In doing so, it actually finds neither.
2.5 out of 5