May 19, 2017 at 4:11 p.m.
ALIEN: COVENANT (2017)
Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England
Directed by Ridley Scott
It begins as a straightforward sequel to 2012’s “Prometheus” and ends as a full-fledged prequel to 1979’s “Alien.” Ridley Scott reinstates the elements of the inaugural film that terrified audiences almost four decades ago to give fans a sense of familiarity. The formula that made the first two films so successful is intact yet it doesn’t surpass them in originality. Dazzling special effects, a strong female heroine, clear-cut villain, and a score by Jed Kurzel that incorporates traces of Jerry Goldsmith’s original make this the third best film of the franchise.
Moviegoers who have seen “Prometheus” will benefit greatly as Scott bypasses the usual flashbacks associated with sequels that get newcomers up to speed. A prologue featuring a young Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and his synthetic creation David (Michael Fassbender) is the biggest reference to Prometheus although aspects of the film are mentioned throughout. Yes, officially this is a sequel to that film but once we get past the opening scene Scott delves straight into Alien territory.
The year is 2104 or 10 years after the commercial star ship Prometheus and its crew disappeared. En route to the planet Origae-6 to start a new colony, the crew of the Covenant is awakened from a seven year cryosleep after an electrical storm damages the vessel. The casualties include a member of the 2000 colonists on board and the ship’s captain (James Franco in a cameo) who is survived by his wife Daniels (Katherine Waterston), clearly the Ripley of the bunch.
Billy Crudup (underrated actor) plays Oram, a religious man who takes over as the ship’s new captain. His insecurity signals that perhaps Daniels should be running the show and the two clash when they intercept a signal (John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads) from a previously undetected planet similar to Earth. Oram wants to deviate off course to investigate the possibility of starting a colony there while Daniels insists that it looks too good to be true. He decides to check it out anyway and she formally lodges a complaint. In many ways, Covenant feels like a reboot of the 1979 film.
Every ship has at least one synthetic (robot) on board in this case we get Michael Fassbender as Walter who looks exactly like David from Prometheus except he talks with a redneck twang. Think of him as an updated version of the David model minus the artificial intelligence. Danny McBride is first rate as the cowboy-hat-wearing pilot Tennessee, he stands out along with Fassbender and Waterston as the film’s three strongest performances.
Once on the planet with majestic mountains and waterfalls, the landing party quickly becomes susceptible to various threats including neomorphs, xenomorphs, and facehuggers (oh my). Questions about the two survivors of Prometheus, David and archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), are answered and revelations are discovered that tie in directly with Alien but in the end there is a lot of middle ground that needs to be addressed before we can move the timeline forward 20 years to meet the crew of the commercial towing vessel Nostromo. There are rumors that Scott plans two more films to fill in the gaps.
“Alien: Covenant” will satisfy fans of the franchise who couldn’t connect with Scott’s Prometheus, while others, myself included, that enjoyed the prequel will find this film to be a smooth transition into the "Alien" universe. The R-rated gore and bloody violence signals that Scott is still capable of delivering the goods that made 1979’s Alien terrifying and fun. I smiled watching the first chestburster scene in Covenant and thought to myself “attaboy Scott.”
(3 ½ stars)
Opens nationwide in theaters May 19
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