If you’re old enough to remember the original 1979 Alien film, you’ll recall the heart-pounding fear, the ghastly aliens and the cold, dark open of space. If you’ve seen Prometheus, the 2012 offshoot of the Alien franchise, you can probably still visualize how the aesthetic of the original films had a foothold, but everything seemed more bright, antiseptic and modern.
Alien: Covenant is a blend of these films, the old and the new, the black and the white. With the same director at the helm of both movies (Ridley Scott, nearly 40 years after the original), telltale similarities abound. Scott loves his streamlined symmetry and his spaceships, and the film at times can be an absolute beauty. Of course, the requisite aliens are here, too, some in terrifying baby form, others in full-grown adult mode. We’d almost forgotten how fast those buggers are.
In this film, the cast is made up of mostly non-superstar actors, and Covenant is led by Michael Fassbender starring as two synthetics, David and Walter. His female co-lead, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), holds her own in the role, but never really stands out until the very end. For the first hour, in fact, because of the space helmets, it’s easy to mistake one person for another.
What, exactly, is going on in Covenant?
Daniels and the rest of the crew, along with synthetic Walter, are on a colonization mission through space when they’re hit by a rogue cosmic wave, which wakes them up from their cryosleep and forces them to make a crucial decision: visit this strange, unknown planet that’s just shown up on their scanners (it’ll take two weeks to reach) or go to their planned destination, which lies at the end of another seven years’ cryosleep?
You can probably guess what call they make. Chaos ensues.
I’ve read reviews that say it’s dull and boring. Is that true?
It’s hard to believe that anybody wasn’t on the edge of their seat. Covenant is end-to-end harrowing. Even in heavy dialogue scenes, I was expecting an alien to pop out and eat someone’s face. The suspense of that happening lies over the film like a blanket, and it really does start to feel like there’s no escape. If that’s what you’re into, then you won’t be disappointed.
It’s when the movie tries to get “heavy” that it languishes. Some loose “religion and God” talk — likely remnant scraps from Prometheus or further attempts by Scott to tie the two films together — falls flat and doesn’t really jibe with the plot. Sometimes the lengthy philosophical chit-chat can grow dull, but thankfully the scenery and special effects are so breathtaking, you can easily focus on that to keep you occupied until the action starts up again.
What about this mostly new cast?
They’re convincing, and some of them are more charismatic than others, but ultimately they’re not memorable. As stated earlier, Waterston becomes infinitely more likable as the end draws near, but it feels too little, too late. There is no Ripley/Sigourney Weaver here to keep us rapt.
As for the “bigger” stars, including Fassbender, Billy Crudup (as religious crew member Oram) and a few others, they’re as good as you’d expect. Fassbender especially thrives in the synthetic roles, and he’s wholly mastered the ability to walk stiffly and emote absolutely nothing.
How truthful is it to Alien lore and history?
While I can’t profess to be an expert on this film’s preceding five movies, this may disappoint the Alien faithful. Diehard fans of other franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek expect certain things from the story, and it’s no different with Alien. Scott stubbornly clings to his franchise, and while certain aspects of the movie are stellar — special effects, space scenes, the aliens’ indestructibility — it feels like the base story and its progression are painted with a haggard old brush. It may be time for a new one.
Still, you’ll feel your jaw drop when you first see the spaceship release its solar sails to harness energy from the sun. What beauty.
So what’s the bottom line?
If you didn’t like Prometheus, rest assured this has a lot more action and a lot less contemplation. If you’re a fan of the first two Alien films, then you’ll probably find things in Covenant that you’ll enjoy. It is wall-to-wall suspense, slightly tempered by an unmemorable cast and so-so storytelling. The aliens are prevalent and plentiful, however — and that scariness never quite goes away over the movie’s two-hour running time.
‘Alien: Covenant’ opens in theatres across Canada on May 19.