Magazine article Variety

Alien: Covenant

Magazine article Variety

Alien: Covenant

Article excerpt

Alien: Covenant

Director: Ridley Scott

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup

Forty years ago, two movies rewrote the rules for science fiction. The first, of course, was 1977's "Star Wars," which made every child dream of space, introducing cuddly, nonsense-spouting aliens that could be brought home as toys. Two years later, Ridley Scott took the opposite approach, conjuring a nightmarish worst-case scenario of the unknown life - and death - that might be awaiting us out there in the void in "Alien." The franchise has gone through a number of permutations since, but "Alien: Covenant" is, if nothing else, a return to form for both Scott and the series: a hard-R horror movie, featuring ferocious, acid-dripping space crustaceans, a tough female lead and a bunch of dead-meat crew members.

In short, it's more of the same, which is both a relief to fans and a letdown to those hoping it might pave new ground. The personal enjoyment you derive from the film probably depends on what you thought of Scott's 2012 semi-prequel, "Prometheus," a high-minded sci-fi chiller that presumed to explain the origins of not just the "Alien" series but of mankind itself. Scott suggested that the off-canon entry contained the DNA of the "Alien" series, though its creatures weren't as scary and the mission was ultimately seen as a disappointment for the franchise's most ardent fans.

"Alien: Covenant" attempts to have it both ways: Taking place in 2104, a decade after "Prometheus" and 18 years before the original "Alien," this latest chapter is essentially a "Prometheus" sequel with «- aliens in it. Though the current movie is named for its spaceship, the Covenant, its plot concerns what became of Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender's "Prometheus" characters, Elizabeth Shaw (who somehow survived a self-induced abortion) and renegade robo-butler David (dismembered but still functional), after they escaped a planet that looked like an insidiously dangerous version of Iceland.

"Prometheus" aside, it's been two decades since audiences had a proper "Alien" movie, and fanboys' appetites and speculation have been raging ever since Scott announced the project - to the extent that nearly every morsel of marketing has been digested and analyzed ad nauseam. None has been more misleading than the stand-alone "Last Supper" prologue released in February, in which James Franco appears for less than a minute as the Covenant's feverish captain (be warned: that's about as much screen time as he gets in the feature) and two of the crew members are revealed as gay - a suggestion that's largely ignored in the movie, in which the couple's relationship feels more buddy-buddy in its execution.

Maybe that's because there's not much call for homosexuals aboard the Covenant (these two, played by Demian Bichir and Nathaniel Dean, work security); the ship is on a mission to colonize Origae-6, a distant planet deemed capable of sustaining human life. Is the destination actually habitable? We'll never know, since a "destructive event" forces synthetic Walter (Fassbender, playing a new-and-improved model of the more idiosyncratic David) to awaken the crew early. Franco doesn't even make it out of his cryo-chamber alive, which leaves second-in-command Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge. Oram is somewhat conflicted by issues of faith, although the trait feels like more of a nod to the movie's grand existential dimensions than anything directly relevant to his behavior.

No matter what your belief system, "Prometheus" floated a blasphemous alternate theory for the origin of mankind, tracing it back to a race of giant marble-skinned beings revealed to have created life on Earth, and who later cultivated a virus capable of wiping out all animals on the planet, including humans. …

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