Greg Eichelberger reviews "Alien: Covenant" (2017)

By: 
Greg Eichelberger
Staff Writer

Greg Eichelberger reviews "Alien: Covenant" (2017)

Boy, those robots/cyborgs/artificial intelligence machines sure know how to cause havoc in the "Alien" franchise films. First, in the 1979 Ridley Scott classic, Ash (played by Ian Holm, who later portrayed Bilbo Baggins) tried to wipe out the crew of the "Nostromo." In the James Cameron-directed sequel in 1986, Bishop (Lance Henriksen, "Millenium") left his loyalties secret for most of the picture. And in Scott's disappointing installment, "Prometheus," Michael Fassbender (an Academy Award nominee for "12 Years a Slave" and "Jobs") plays another ambiguous automaton.
Here, Fassbender gets to exhibit a duel role not seen since "The Patty Duke Show" as both the modern, but naive Walter, and the aforementioned David, who now has something akin to evil on his mind as the AI created by company president Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, "Prometheus," but best known for his pompous cop in “L.A. Confidential”).
Taking place 10 years after the last "Alien"version (and about 15 years before the first film took place), the crew of the colony ship "Covenant," bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy with more than 2,000 frozen passengers and an equal number of embryos, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world.
Scott returned to his roots with "Prometheus," the lavish 2012 prequel, well done in its visuals, yet somewhat soulless as a whole. And while that plot brings the story of rogue — almost invincible — entities wiping out various interstellar crews full circle, one wonders what the point of the entire enterprise was and who was clamoring for such an effort in the first place.
The helmer of such other top movies as "Backhawk Down" and "The Martian," among others, puts aside that picture's mostly annoying, pretentious, confusing exhortation and instead cuts straight to the action.
Here, a tragic event causes a fire in the suspended animation pod of the ship's captain (James Franco, "Why Him?"), elevating the novice Oran (character actor Billy Cruddup, "20th Century Women," but best known for his performance as an up-and-coming rock star in 1997's "Almost Famous") to a role he is obviously not ready to take on.
He's frightened about his new command and when the crew hears a transmission of the John Denver No. 2 pop hit, "Take Me Home (Country Roads) from a nearby planetary system, tries to convince them to deviate their course from the planned destination and take a chance on this closer venue.
Objecting is Executive Officer Daniels Katherine Waterston ("Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them"), who says the discovery of an almost perfect, Earth-like world is "too good to be true." He overrules her, but her words soon prove to be accurate, as they land and immediately encounter our friendly neighborhood pathogens, eggs, pods and deadly zenomorphs.
There is really no reason to dwell on the other crew characters (consisting of married couples, by the way), considering that most of these individuals end up being ripped, sliced, crushed, dissected and bludgeoned beyond all recognition, although comedian Danny McBride (the terrible live action films, "Masterminds" and "Rock the Kasbah" and a vocal talent in "Sausage Party" and "Angry Birds") does somewhat decent turn as a pilot.
After arriving on the planet, several crewmembers are infected and soon we witness the same "monster-coming out of the victim's body" like what took place more than 35 years hence. Further attacks by the stainless steel monsters are prevented by David, who evidently has a special bond with these creatures, even overlooking their small idiosyncrasies like their desire to tear the visiting humans to shreds.
He also tries to "teach" Walter how to be more creative (by playing a recorder), but is there foul work afoot? We won't reveal it, but suffice it to say, the two get to not only battle each other, but a nod is thrown to the new Hollywood gay/transgender sensibilities by having them actually make out with one another (don't ask; please, don't ask).
Also, one cannot help but compare the original film (as well as the first sequel) — and although more than three decades apart — they appear even more favorably when one realizes that today’s vast technical film industry leaps were not available then. The special effects and seamless amazing visuals of "Alien: Covenant" goes only to highlight just how skilled those artists were in producing “Alien,” and "Aliens" two of the best-looking, most terrifying, FX-filled movies of that era, as well as some of the great characters (Ripley, Ash, Dallas, Lambert, Brett, Kane, Parker, Bishop, Hicks, etc.) in science fiction history.
Still, credit does go to the director and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski ("The Walk," "The Martian"); production designer Chris Seagers ("Saving Private Ryan") and art director Ian Gracie ("Gods Of Egypt," "The Great Gatsby"), who give the picture it's flashy, seamless appearance. Plus, Scott has definitely mastered the creepy, futuristic, forlorn, atmospheric look of these far-flung worlds.
But with a confusing story that tries to mirror the better installments of the series — down to the most remote detail (blame writers Jack Paglen ("Transcendence"), Michael Green ("Logan," the upcoming "Blade Runner"), John Logan ("Spectre," "Skyfall") and Dante Harper (in his debut) — and a profusion of little, if any memorable characters, "Covenant" asks more questions than it answers and ends up just being slightly cool to look at — with passing mentions of Wagner, Byron and Shelley and a few scenes of shocking (but not frightening) sequences and should therefore not be taken very seriously. Plus, it's sadly something we have seen too often before.
Grade: C

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