New ‘ Alien’ film can’t break from scary past

Michael Fass­ben­der lends needed soul as twin an­droids

USA TODAY International Edition - - LIFE -

The line be­tween cre­ation and de­struc­tion, birth and bloody death, is a sub­tle one in Alien: Covenant, direc­tor Ri­d­ley Scott’s in­trigu­ing next chap­ter in the long- run­ning sci- fi fran­chise and a two- fold tour de force for Michael Fass­ben­der.

A great­est- hits pack­age of the pre­vi­ous sci- fi hor­ror out­ings, Covenant ( out of four; rated R; in the­aters na­tion­wide Thurs­day night) com­bines the hor­rific chaos in­tro­duced in Scott’s orig­i­nal 1979 classic with the philo­soph­i­cal un­der­pin­nings of 2012’ s Prometheus pre­quel, never quite carv­ing its own place in the canon.

In 2104, a cos­mic ac­ci­dent wakes up the sleep­ing crew of the Covenant, caus­ing a ruckus and burn­ing up the ship’s cap­tain, Ja­cob Bran­son ( James Franco). On a mis­sion with thou­sands of colonists and hu­man em­bryos in sta­sis, the space­far­ers — and their an­droid as­sis­tant Wal­ter ( Fass­ben­der) — are still seven years away from their tar­get planet, but in­stead of go­ing back to their sleep cham­bers, they dis­cover a lush par­adise world nearby that could po­ten­tially be their new home.

Ter­raform­ing ex­pert Daniels ( Kather­ine Water­ston) and new cap­tain Christo­pher Oram ( Billy Crudup) lead an ex­pe­di­tion to the sur­face, where they meet David ( also Fass­ben­der), the syn­thetic man from Prometheus who’s been con­duct­ing var­i­ous sci­ence ex­per­i­ments on lo­cal fauna for the past 10 years. ( He’s an older, more hu­man ver­sion of Wal­ter’s an­droid model, thus the re­sem­blance.) But the crew mem­bers also have a chance en­counter with alien par­a­sites, which be­gin to wreak havoc on their bod­ies. Any­body fa­mil­iar with the in­fa­mous chest- burst­ing scene from

Alien knows where this is headed. Ex­plod­ing or­gans and buck­ets of blood have been seen be­fore, though alien ten­ta­cles emerg­ing while two folks en­gage in shower sex gives the film a cer­tain air of fun creepi­ness. And the alien crea­tures them­selves have never looked bet­ter.

The sig­na­ture face­hug­ger ( the crabby crea­ture that in­fects folks up close and per­sonal) is a throw­back that looks the same as it did nearly 40 years ago, but the ma- lev­o­lent Xenomorph is a CGI won­der, wildly head­but­ting space­craft and slob­ber­ing at the sight of hu­man meat. The hu­manoid Neo­morph is a splen­did ad­di­tion to the bunch as Covenant on the whole makes strides in ex­plain­ing the ori­gin of the sin­is­ter species.

The ship’s crew, for­get­table for the most part, aren’t overly de­vel­oped, though ex­pec­ta­tions are low with fanged doom pos­si­ble around ev­ery cor­ner. Danny McBride plays against comedic type as pi­lot Ten­nessee but doesn’t have any­thing to do un­til the end, though Water­ston strongly in­hab­its the trans­for­ma­tion of Daniels from griev­ing widow to butt- kicker supreme, a la orig­i­nal Alien star Sigour­ney Weaver’s Ellen Ri­p­ley.

When it comes to mem­o­rable per­son­al­i­ties, hu­mans and aliens alike take a back­seat to Fass­ben­der, who is mag­nif­i­cent in his dual ro­botic roles. Wal­ter is a more me­chan­i­cal and later model than David, an artis­tic fel­low who lit­er­ally meets his maker ( played by Guy Pearce) in the movie’s mu­si­cal and min­i­mal­is­tic pro­logue. The scenes be­tween David and Wal­ter are par­tic­u­lar en­gag­ing, with Fass­ben­der play­ing off him­self to give this looka­like pair in­di­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ties and mo­ti­va­tions.

While au­di­ences will be able to see the twist com­ing light years away, Covenant does suc­ceed in con­tin­u­ing Prometheus’ am­bi­tion to deepen the Alien mythol­ogy with a mean­ing- of- life bent. Car­nage may al­ways be at the heart of this se­ries, but Fass­ben­der does his part to give it soul.

MARK ROGERS

Daniels ( Kather­ine Water­ston) meets with her crew’s res­i­dent an­droid Wal­ter ( Michael Fass­ben­der) in Alien: Covenant.

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