Original Alien infects this host
There’s a lot to like about Covenant, but it also treads a familiar path
There’s been a recent trend for long-awaited, so-called sequels to function as remakes in everything but name. Think of Jurassic World, which hit many of the same beats as Jurassic Park; Terminator Genisys, a do-over of the first Terminator movie with a new wrinkle in time; or Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which even its most delirious fans (guilty) admitted was a lot like the original Star Wars.
These movies have tended to receive grudgingly good reviews and generous box-office numbers, which is enough for Hollywood to see the trend as a good thing that must continue. And so here comes Alien: Covenant, which combines a whole lot of DNA from the 1979 original with very little of the Chariots of the Gods mysticism from the most recent chapter, 2012’s Prometheus.
That one featured a vessel of exploration and a fascinating humanoid robot named David, played by Michael Fassbender. This one opens with a flashback to David’s time with his creator (Guy Pearce) to show us how the statuesque android got his name. We then move forward to AD 2104; about 10 years after the events of Prometheus, but still quite a few years before the original Alien.
Yet another ship, the Covenant, is plying the stars, this time carrying terraforming equipment and a hold full of colonists (some adults, others mere embryos) in suspended animation, destined for a world they hope will be habitable.
The ship also features a small crew, conveniently paired off into married couples. Plus Walter, a David lookalike, but a newer model with fewer megalomaniacal or messianic tics.
When a stellar event knocks the ship for a loop, the crew has a rude awakening that leaves Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge. He’s a “man of faith,” an intriguing concept given that the screenplay takes the time to point it out, but frustrating in that it never elaborates on it, even to say which faith it is.
Before they can resume course, they intercept a human signal from a planet even nicer than the one they were headed to. Which is how they come to find David, sole survivor of the Prometheus.
Each android is fascinated with his new-found “brother,” but before you can say “fratricide is a gas,” the aliens show up, having found yet another way to infect humans as well as relying on the standard jack-in-the-box egg pods.
Crudup does a fantastic, hesitating performance as a man who clearly wasn’t cut out of captain cloth and Katherine Waterston excels as the captain’s widow, a kind of nouveau Ripley, even copying Sigourney Weaver’s all-business haircut from the Alien sequels. And the rest of the crew have just enough development to register as people before a number of them register as alien snacks.
I liked Covenant, a lot. Even at a shade over two hours, the pacing never drags and there are some clever nods to the original (one of those drinking bird toys) and some marvellous new touches, such as David’s homemade flute and cabinet of alien curiosities. He’s like an explorer of old whose fascination with the jungle has slowly morphed into a kind of madness.
And yet I couldn’t help but think in the days following the screening that I’d seen 70 per cent of this before.
Alien: Covenant continues the storyline from the franchise’s previous release — Prometheus — as a crew of colonists are sent to a planet they hope will be inhabitable. Remember these faces well because more than a few will end up as snacks after their ship is knocked off course and the crew finds a ‘nicer’ planet.
Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant has some clever nods to the original starring Sigourney Weaver, but the plot seems quite familiar as well.