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Alien: Covenant by Ridley Scott (dir) Jack Paglen & Michael Green (story), John Logan & Dante Harper (screenplay)
Review by Drew Bittner
20th Century Fox  
Date: 11 May 2017

Links: Imdb Record /

On a colonization mission, a crew is pushed to its limits when it comes across an impossible message--and stumbles into a nightmare.

When an unexpected solar storm damages the ship Covenant, carrying 2000 colonists, 1800 embryos and a crew of 15, all in cryosleep for a seven-year voyage, the crew is awakened to a disaster. They've lost their captain, Branson (James Franco, in an uncredited role), along with 47 sleeping passengers. His wife, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), is left grieving and alone, wondering how she will ever build her cabin on the lake (a dream project of theirs). Only the synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender) seems to understand her grief and empathize.

Once repairs are completed, Tennessee (Danny McBride) is on the way in when his electronics pick up a garbled message. They are able to unscramble it enough to discern that it is coming from close enough to investigate. Besides, after the death of Branson, none of the crew want to reenter the cryosleep tubes. Oram (Billy Crudup), an uncertain man of faith abruptly promoted to command of the mission, asks for Daniels to support him in exploring the source of the transmission: a world that might be even better suited for a colony than their destination. Despite misgivings, they proceed to the new world.

Once there, the source of the transmission is in the midst of a huge and powerful storm. They choose to attempt a landing, even though it will mean being cut off from the ship. Oram leads Daniels and most of the crew to the surface, while Tennessee keeps a skeleton group of three on board the Covenant.

At first, the mission goes smoothly, despite a very rough planetfall. Half of the group sets off for the source of the transmission (now identified as including a familiar song) while a few stay behind to gather samples. In each sub-group, one team member catches a viral infection and becomes desperately ill, leading to a race back to the landing craft. When the infection reaches a culmination, a catastrophic mishap ends in the survivors being stranded on the planet surface, with Covenant in orbit and out of contact.

Not long after, the struggling planetside team is saved from vicious predators by a cowled figure. This is David (Fassbender), who identifies himself as the last survivor of the exploration ship Prometheus (which disappeared ten years before). His comrade, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, died some years ago and has a headstone in his compound's garden. He lives in a necropolis, among the burned and fossilized corpses of humanoid aliens caught in a moment of extreme terror, but says that it is all perfectly safe.

However, safe it is not. Even as David's story turns up some inconsistencies, a xenomorph--similar to those we've seen before--infiltrates the compound with lethal results. This sets off a chain reaction of discoveries and deaths that horrify the crew and require an emergency evacuation from the deadly planet. If this place might have been Eden, there are surely snakes aplenty.

The movie's theme might well be that we create our own devils, starting from an opening scene between David and his creator, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, uncredited). The two discuss the nature of creation and the obligations of creator to created ... and why a creation must serve the creator if it is arguably superior. This lays thematic groundwork for some major developments later on, particularly when certain debates assume theological overtones.

With a story by Michael Green (American Gods, Logan) and Jack Paglen and a screenplay by John Logan (Gladiator, Skyfall) and Dante Harper, directed by Ridley Scott, the enterprise offers a glimmer of hope after the disappointment of 2012's Prometheus. Elements of the story hark back to Alien and Aliens both, with a crew caught off-guard and unprepared, yet equipped with firepower and combat skills to counter a threat. The theological element even calls back to Alien 3, with its monk-prisoners on an isolated world.

Amid all that, it's hard to identify much that is truly new in this movie. There is an intrepid female lead, a mysterious synthetic with its own agenda, a competent crew that's out of its element, random gory deaths and jump-scares, the trademark double-smile of the alien xenomorphs, even a chest-bursting scene ... it's very much all of the Alien series so far put into a blender and served at room temperature. While it improves on where Prometheus left off--and answers some questions left over from that movie--it also introduces some needless questions, such as: if you already have a highly effective vector for contagion, why create something more cumbersome and uncertain? (When you see the movie, you'll get what I mean.) Presumably, it allows for a more sophisticated end-product or improving upon perfection, but that's left to be inferred by the viewer.

Fans of the franchise will certainly delight in this entry, which boasts some very good performances--I'd cite Fassbender, Waterston, Crudup, and McBride in particular--and some terrific effects shots. As this is the start of a new trilogy, its vaguely incomplete nature can also be overlooked. But the end conclusion is that this is probably not the Aliens you were looking (or hoping) for.

Recommended for fans, primarily.

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