The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant adds another layer to an appealing, yet inconsistent movie franchise. Ridley Scott's 1979 original remains one of the scariest films ever made. James Cameron's sequel Aliens took the idea in a more action-oriented direction, delivering an A+ thrill ride. David Fincher's Alien 3 was botched by studio tampering, while Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Alien: Resurrection mostly felt like a rehash of things that had already been done. The less said about the two Alien vs. Predator pictures, the better. Scott returned for the very good Prometheus, which has the DNA of Alien without being a direct sequel. That film, in turn, leads to this one. The trip has been strange, but Alien: Covenant is a satisfying stop along the way.

The Covenant is a ship carrying more than 2,000 passengers, all couples, in hypersleep chambers. They're headed for a habitable planet far, far away which they intend to colonize. A mishap awakens the ship's crew, except for the android Walter (Michael Fassbender), who manages things while everyone else slumbers. In the process of fixing the problem, which killed the ship's captain, they receive a rogue communication from a planet they didn't realize was on their map. First Mate Oram (Billy Crudup) wants to investigate. His second-in-command, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), doesn't think it's a good idea. They land anyway, finding that the planet is very similar to Earth, and quite beautiful.

Two threats are waiting for them: the trademark Alien Xenomorphs and David (also played by Fassbender), the traitorous android from Prometheus. Oram, Daniels, and the others must find a way to escape and get back to the mother ship above.

Alien: Covenant finds itself in a bit of a difficult situation. Prometheus introduced themes related to creation and the search for humanity's origins. This movie has to follow up on those themes, while also delivering the kinds of shocks that are expected from any picture bearing the Alien name – a moniker the previous installment obviously did not have. (Some fans also complained that Prometheus wasn't scary enough, which may have increased pressure to give this one a more intense tone.) The screenplay by John Logan (Skyfall) and Dante Harper never quite bridges the gap. Transitions between the gore-filled Alien material and the more cerebral Prometheus ideas often feel jarring. You're watching one kind of movie, then a different kind of movie. This process repeats throughout.

Despite this inconsistency, Alien: Covenant works overall because both halves are well-done, even if they aren't 100% compatible. Scenes between Walter and David advance the themes of Prometheus, continuing to explore the idea that people inherently wonder where they came from and what lies beyond this existence. The film sets up a compelling God/devil dynamic between the two characters that doesn't entirely pay off. Still, it's thrilling when a science-fiction story aims this high. Acting opposite oneself can't be easy, but Fassbender does an outstanding job of it, giving Walter and David distinct personalities that infuse their interactions with a nice sense of mystery.

The more Alien-esque scenes, meanwhile, deliver a pleasingly intense experience. The infamous “chestburster” has lost its uniqueness after thirty-eight years; the film finds some creative new ways to present it, though. A climactic battle between Daniels and a Xenomorph atop a ship is thrilling, and the gory attack sequences are as nasty as they need to be. You definitely get a jolt from them. Care has visibly been paid to recapturing some of the dark appeal of the original.

Alien: Covenant benefits from strong performances all the way around, including one from Danny McBride, who delivers an unexpected dramatic turn. Visual effects are superb, with H.R. Giger's classic designs incorporated throughout. The movie ends with a set-up for another installment, the implications of which are chilling. Even if it's a little back-and-forth in tone, the film delivers enough to satisfy fans of Alien and/or Prometheus. The series is on solid ground.

( out of four)

Alien: Covenant is rated R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity. The running time is 2 hours and 2 minutes.

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