Director Ridley Scott is trying to refurbish the “Alien” series which he began back in 1979. Unhappy with sequels that followed (“Aliens” directed by James Cameron, “Alien 3” directed by David Fincher, “Alien: Resurrection” directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet). Scott (“Gladiator,” “The Martian”) began the prequel journey in 2012 with “Prometheus,” introducing the saga to a new generation and reinvigorating fans of the originals. Aiming at a trilogy that will lead up to his career-defining 1979 Oscar-winning space horror flick, “Alien: Covenant” lacks much of the cinematic intrigue found in “Prometheus.” In my experience, the only thing worse than a sequel or a prequel, is a sequel to a prequel. Scott not only repeats nearly the exact same plot as “Prometheus,” but offers nothing new to the series as a whole, except perhaps double the Michael Fassbender.
Artificial intelligence Walter (Fassbender) must wake up the fifteen-member crew on board The Covenant when their ship is hit and damaged by a blast of energy in deep space. Casualties, including their commander, means second in command Oram (Billy Crudup) is now in charge. A bad blow for the colonists, on their way to start new life, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), wife of the commander must now imagine her new life alone. Ship Captain Tennessee (Danny McBride) receives a startling message while repairing the ship, that causes Covenant to change course, seeking out a mysterious human voice. What the crew discovers on the unidentified, inhabitable planet is not only the crash site of Elizabeth Shaw and her artificial companion David (Fassbender), but perhaps the origin of life itself.
Like “Prometheus,” we have an unpopular leader, a foggy, wet new world (just not photographed as beautifully), and handfuls of characters that are not developed beyond their intended purpose of junk food for nasty looking life-forms. Besides the let down in cinematography, “Covenant” composer Jed Kurzel’s work never rises to the eerie beauty of Marc Streitenfeld’s work on the previous installment. “Covenant” is far more interested in blood, guts and making the audience jump out of their seat, it’s just that after six of these films (seven if you count “Alien vs. Predator”) there isn’t much to anticipate. Waterston (“Fantastic Beasts”) stepping into the lead, can’t match the intensity of Noomi Rapace’s Shaw. The duality of Fassbender’s performance is one of Covenant’s few highlights.
As a moody science fiction thriller, “Covenant” is trite. As a horror film, it’s predictable. As an “Alien” installment, it’s going to disappoint fans expecting a fresh and exciting next chapter. Presented with presumably intelligent characters, they are after all sent into space to colonize a new planet; it’s frustrating to watch each of them make such stupid and deadly mistakes. If you’re expecting the script to top that ingenious self-surgery scene from “Prometheus,” you will find more disappointment. The film concludes in familiar territory, closer resembling a filler episode than a monumental next installment.
Final thought — Scott’s latest “Alien” series installment lacks creativity and cinematic inspiration.