Director Ridley Scott returns to the film franchise he helped start with "Alien: Covenant," which is technically the eighth "Alien" film (if you count the two "Alien vs. Predator" spin-off movies). This latest film could have easily been called "Prometheus 2," picking up where the last Scott-helmed prequel left off. While it includes all of the audience-pleasing tropes we've come to expect from the franchise-- aliens now don't just burst out of people's chests, but there backs and faces as well-- much of what we get in this installment feels borrowed from other, better Summer blockbusters.
Without spoiling why (just trust me), the plot of "Alien: Covenant" seems to borrow heavily from the recently released "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," and there is even a major fight-sequence-showdown that feels directly lifted from March's "Logan." When the group debarks onto a mysterious planet for the middle portion of the film, it felt like I was re-watching "Kong: Skull Island." It also picks up on the same, tired "faith vs. science" and "man vs. creation" themes that "Prometheus" force-fed us back in 2012. And while it tries building the Alien mythology well beyond the original flick's premise (which was just a classic, claustrophobic, sci-fi horror thriller), it is actually committing the biggest sin of all: It's making the Alien universe less and less interesting.
Michael Fassbender returns in a dual role, reprising his "Prometheus" role as the synthetic cyborg David and also playing an updated version of said cyborg, Walter. Walter is the synthetic assigned to the Covenant space-ship, a colonizing vessel that is on a seven-year journey to a planet that appears inhabitable to humans. On-board are the cryogenically frozen crew members, over 2000 colony members, and a freezer full of embryos...future Earth-spawn who hope to come to life at their new home. The audience knows from experience that in a movie like this, the crew we get to meet just represent various people that are going to die - either by alien attack or other means - and there hasn't been a cryogenically frozen astronaut in the history of film that has ever had peaceful sleep for the story's entirety. Yes, something bad is going to befall our merry crew, it's just a matter of when, where and by what.
This crew is filled out by Katherine Waterston (the film's Ripley-esque hero), Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir and Carmen Ejogo, to name a few. When they receive a mysterious signal emanating from a nearby planet (another boring sci-fi cliche), they discover what appears to be a closer, inhabitable planet that was apparently missed (conveniently?). Of course they decide to go off course to find the source of the signal, and terror ensues.
Even if you throw out the above - that much of the film feels like a rehashing of other recent films - "Prometheus 2"...er, "Alien: Covenant" is just disappointing for other reasons. It relies too heavily on CG for one, making the epic battle sequence near the end of the film feel more like "Starship Troopers" than the intimately-horrific "Alien." We also see the big "plot twists" and developments coming from light years away. We know the Alien is going to get on the spaceship. And we also know from every other movie and TV show ever that has featured an actor playing multiple parts, that there will be a scene involving mistaken identities. It's lame that "Alien" went the most obvious route at nearly every intersection.
"Alien: Covenant" excels when it puts its heroes in space, in poorly lit corridors fighting an unseen Alien threat...and there are some sequences like that. These tense scenes never seems to get old. The rest of what "Alien: Covenant" does however, feels crusty and decrepit. It's like the movie itself is an inversion of the cyborg Walter and David...instead of improving upon what existed in the past, it seems to be getting less and less functional.
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Run Time: 2 hours 2 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo
Directed by Ridley Scott ("The Martian," "Exodus: Gods and Kings," "Prometheus," "American Gangster," "Kingdom of Heaven," "Black Hawk Down," "Gladiator," "Blade Runner," "Alien")
This movie opens everywhere Friday May 19, 2017 (check for showtimes).