Movie review: ‘Alien: Covenant’ returns to familiar ground

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

We all probably heard that piece of advice as kids, and while it may be an old cliche, it usually turns out to be accurate. Unfortunately, characters in movies often seem to disregard this bit of wisdom, and such is the case with the crew in the new movie “Alien: Covenant.”

Continuing the famous “Alien” sci-fi/horror franchise, “Alien: Covenant” takes place after the prequel “Prometheus” but before the original “Alien” movie that officially killed any desire I had to actually go to space. 😉 The Covenant is a colony ship bound for the distant planet Origae-6 when it encounters a rogue neutrino burst in deep space. The crew is awakened from stasis to deal with this emergency, and while they’re awake, they encounter a strange transmission from a nearby planet.

This is, of course, the “too good to be true” planet; it appears capable of sustaining life and is a whole lot closer than Origae-6. Although crew member Daniels (Katherine Waterston) protests, everyone else thinks it’s a great idea to deviate from the mission to explore this new planet. As anyone who has seen another Alien movie already knows, they really should have listened to Daniels. The apparent paradise planet quickly turns into a nightmare, as crew members begin falling ill due to a strange virus or are attacked by a vicious alien predator. As the crew members get picked off one by one, they encounter a mysterious resident on the planet who offers to help them survive…only he may be too good to be true also.

If you’re looking to escape to the theater for an afternoon of summer blockbuster thrills and scares, “Alien: Covenant” is a decent ride. However, it doesn’t really add anything new to the franchise, and people probably won’t still be talking about it by the summer’s end.

“Covenant” feels like a stylistic blend of the first Alien film and the prequel “Prometheus.” Although “Prometheus” proved to be somewhat polarizing among fans, I actually really liked it, and I prefer it to “Covenant.”

“Covenant” starts off slowly, but things get scary rather quickly as soon as the crew starts exploring the “paradise” planet. Director Ridley Scott is good at establishing a creeping sense of dread, and he never lets you lose that queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. At no point are you allowed to completely relax and believe the crew members are safe.

Like in “Prometheus,” the standout character is an android played by Michael Fassbender. Fassbender’s character in “Prometheus” was a disturbing and fascinating life-like android named David who had an agenda of his own that didn’t necessarily include saving the human crew he was created to assist. Fassbender actually plays two roles in “Covenant”; I won’t say more due to spoilers, but I thought both roles he played were equally fascinating, for different reasons. At times his performance was just as scary as the alien creatures on the planet — which is definitely saying something.

While the parts with Fassbender are intriguing and the action is intense and gripping, as I mentioned before “Covenant” doesn’t really bring anything new to the franchise and ultimately feels a bit too familiar. Sometimes you can only stretch a franchise so far, and I felt the film tried a little too hard to remind us of the original Alien movie.

You’ll also have to overlook some gaps in logic. I found it a little surprising that Daniels was the only crew member protesting the decision to deviate from their mission to Origae-6 to explore this new planet, which didn’t turn up in their original research. The Covenant is a civilian spacecraft, not military, but I still found it unusual the crew would almost flippantly disregard the original plan in order to venture off into uncharted space and land on what could be a hostile planet. I wish there had been at least a few more protesters besides just Daniels; maybe it could have been put to a contentious vote.

You’ll also notice many of the crew members are married couples, which struck me as an unusual decision. Having that many people with close relationships in the chain of command creates opportunities for emotionally compromised decisions (which happens quite a bit in this movie). Again, it just seemed strange the ship’s crew would have been structured this way.

In short, longtime fans of the Alien franchise will probably still want to catch “Covenant” in theaters, but it can’t quite compete with the original two films.

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