By Kim Hughes
The law of diminishing returns seems somewhat lost on director Ridley Scott whose ongoing Alien franchise/obsession – currently manifest in Alien: Covenant, out May 19th – continues unabated.
Then again, this latest instalment in the series (and sequel to 2012’s Prometheus, itself a prequel to the original and ground-breaking 1979 film) fares okay, providing expectations are managed at the outset - which, come to think of it, is a cinematic habit worth cultivating anyway.
As with Prometheus, Michael Fassbender is the new film’s scene-stealer. And with Alien: Covenant, we get a double-shot, with Fassbender playing both the finnicky of-the-moment android Walter (a break in the alphabetic pattern of naming the artificials, as keeners will note) and the more sinister earlier iteration David, from ill-fated Prometheus, whose revolt against humankind conjures a weightier Biblical subtext than maybe should be pondered within what is essentially a popcorn film.
Even so. Audiences come to Alien films for thrills, chills and stylized gore set in creepy off-world locales, not sharply nuanced performances from decorated thespians. We get plenty of the former right from the first frame.
More significantly, we get a fairly intriguing story - albeit one that bears a passing resemblance to the dreaded Chris Pratt/Jennifer Lawrence mess Passengers from last year. En route to a distant new planet along with two thousand colonists and a thousand embryos in 2104, a suddenly reanimated space crew encounters what appears to be a human transmission from nearby planet that seems worth investigating. Well, maybe.
Sadly, utopia is not what’s found on this planet when the Covenant crew arrives. Escape becomes a matter of life and death and the white-knuckle action spins out from there. Stars Billy Crudup and particularly Katherine Waterston (see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and 2014’s Inherent Vice) are both solid and as jittery as you’d expect from interplanetary explorers encountering a really, really bad scene with drooling predators on their tail.
Yes, yes… but is it any good? A self-described sci-fi nerd friend attending with me thought Alien: Covenant was meh; asked for a one-sentence description, he said “A bit slow, spotty and missing the real power of an Alien attack scene.”
In fairness, they can’t all be chest-bursters with a smoking hot crew. And there is a nail-biting showdown near film’s end between Waterston and an alien.
But there is a sluggishness to Alien: Covenant despite the eye-popping spectacle of the sets that Scott – for all his passion and purpose – might want to address before completing the third (and final) Alien prequel trilogy promised in the series and very obviously teed up in Alien: Covenant’s final scenes.
Alien: Covenant: Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup, Katherine Waterston and Carmen Ejogo. Opening wide May 19.
An entertainment/lifestyle writer and editor of an exquisite vintage, Kim has written about film, music, books, food, wine, cosmetics and cars for the Toronto Star, NOW Magazine, Report on Business, Amazon.com, hmv, Salon, Elevate, CBC, Spafax and many other marquee properties. She lives in Toronto and is a proud volunteer with Annex Cat Rescue.