If any director knows his way around a tense, fun space thriller, it’s Ridley Scott, the Oscar-nominated director who re-imagined the sci-fi game in 1979 when he launched “Alien.” Since then, the belly-popping franchise has birthed six more films, many of them guided — with varying degrees of success — by such acclaimed directors as James Cameron, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. For the latest, “Alien: Covenant,” Scott follows up his “Alien” origin story, “Prometheus,” with another spine-tingler sure to be deadly for the faint of heart.
“Alien: Covenant” picks up in 2104, 10 years after the events depicted in “Prometheus” and 17 years before the events in “Alien.” The spaceship Covenant is on a long journey to a faraway planet, Origae-6, where colonists hope to establish a new civilization.
But an emergency awakens the crew from hibernation and sends their ship off course toward the uncharted planet LV-223, the setting for “Prometheus.” The mates (Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride and Demian Bichir) are mighty sailing men and women; and the skipper (Billy Crudup) is brave and sure, but this isn’t Gilligan’s 3-hour tour.
Scott, working from a script by John Logan and Dante Harper, crafts a haunted-house horror flick set aboard a spaceship and a creepy planet that, at first, seems ideal to sustain human life. Looks deceive. “Covenant” is like those slasher flicks featuring teenagers stranded in the woods, as an ax murderer picks them off one-by-one. Except, these bloodthirsty villains are slithering xenomorphs who feast on human flesh. The mood is dark and frightening — and typical Scott. The cast is big and the body count high. “Covenant” is essentially a carbon copy of what came before it — a mix of unsettling suspense and stomach-turning scares. Scott’s formula might be a bit stale, but it’s still a trip.
What “Covenant” lacks in originality, it certainly makes up for in execution with big set pieces and special effects, including those gross-out extraterrestrials that tear forth at unexpected times from the bodies of unsuspecting humans.
No one is better, however, than Michael Fassbender, playing composed-but-creepy humanoid Walter, an updated version of the decapitated (and now restored) David from “Prometheus.” In a double performance, Fassbender, per usual, is excellent, even if one homoerotic moment he has with his twin-droid is unintentionally funny.
For her part, Waterson is cool-under-fire as Daniels, the film’s kick-ass heroine, toughened up with a boyish bowl cut and armed with an assault weapon. Bechir, McBride, Crudup, and the rest of the ill-fated crew (James Franco, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Nathaniel Dean, Benjamin Rigby) either end up as alien supper or alien conquerors. Depends on the size of their paycheck.
What sci-fi does best is shed light on our fear and conflict with the great unknown. “Covenant” delivers on that promise. It bats around big ideas about creation, faith and free will, but never does Scott forget his first mission is to entertain — and on that front, “Covenant” holds up its end of the deal.
— Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.