Ridley Scott returns for his third crack at the series in Alien: Covenant – the big bridging chapter between his contentious Prometheus and the original sci-fi classic. Stepping up the horror in place of Prometheus‘ more cerebral journey, Alien: Covenant opens with the crew of a deep-space terraforming colony having awoken early due to a serious ship-wide malfunction. Having managed repairs, they receive a mysterious transmission from a nearby planet (a transmission that at first oddly sounds like the spawn child of Chewbacca and C-3PO before the crew quickly determines that it is in fact a John Denver song). Reckoning that there are humans nearby, the newly christened Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) convinces them to change objectives and head for a new possible home at the source of the transmission against the objections of widowed first mate Branson (Katherine Waterston). With their payload of 2,000 colonists in stasis (plus a thousand frozen embryos), the colony arrives at the planet to discover the titular threat.
If that set up sounds familiar to the opening narrative of Alien (a crew awoken early that find a deep space transmission from a nearby alien-laden planet), the similarities don’t subside. In many ways, Alien: Covenant comes off as a poor man’s reimagining of the original film with a sequel to Prometheus forced in arbitrarily. The two narratives don’t gel and the constant echoes from the 1979 film create an ongoing sense of stale repetition (especially towards the third act).
The film’s biggest Achilles’s heel is the disposable, boring quality of its characters – so much so that it makes Prometheus‘ insipid collection of idiots more colorful by comparison. To call them characterless would be an understatement. This is a collection of post-it notes jotting about with one-line trait inscriptions on them – traits that are never explored. There’s a post-it with the word “faith” on it. It’s most defining characteristic is repeating the word. There’s another one with a cowboy hat. There’s one that says “hot couple” (no need to waste paper on more than one note for that). Then there’s one that says “Ripley substitute.” The xenomorph tearing them to pieces produces the equivalent emotional anguish of a paper shredder massacre.
The lone exception is Michael Fassbender in a dual role. This is solely due to the fact that he is the only entity in the film that presents something new to the tired story. His scenes represent the solitary highlights in Alien: Covenant and prompt the only interesting reflexes from the others onscreen. Of course, the real star is the heralded return of the xenomorph but the ugly truth of the matter is this: the xenomorph is, and always has been, a device – a device that is given life by the characters it threatens. Let it loose in a room full of post-it notes and it ceases to dispel the terror that once dominated its very existence.
Like Prometheus, Alien: Covenant excels with some fantastic special effects and landscape shots despite being even more so blanketed with a bland, grey color scheme; however, its lack of wonder and atmosphere that dominated the previous entry leaves very little awe to be inspired here. Scott’s talent for staging effective heart-pounding sequences take center stage eliciting some impressive moments of suspense and the franchises’ trademark body horror but they once again lose their impact due to the overtly expendable nature of its victims.
As is the nature of franchises these days, the revelations in Covenant conspicuously leaves room for more prequel stories. The real question is, should we care? Unlike the continuing adventures of Sigourney Weaver, there is no one engaging enough to tempt another return. The once intriguing question and search for the origins of creation is dispelled more quickly here than its post-it victims leaving us with nothing more than a forgettable alien monster movie.