Alien: Covenant (2017)

“Shh. Don’t let the bed bugs bite. I’ll tuck in the children.”

Justin’s rating: Four by four, at least

Justin’s review: As much as I love movie sequels — and I do — I always loathe being let down by them, especially if they have potential. 2012’s Prometheus was a great disappointment for fans of the Alien franchise looking for a continuation of the story with Ridley Scott once again at the helm. It wasn’t a horrible film, but it didn’t come across as an Alien movie and was confusing in its themes. It was the kind of sequel (well, prequel) that you see once and go, “Yeah, I guess I never need or want to see that again.”

I had better hopes going into 2017’s Alien Covenant, especially since it looked to make more of an effort to tie into the Alien mythos and bring back the legendary space monsters.

Set 10 years after the Weyland-Yutani spaceship Promethius disappeared on an alien world, colonization ship Covenant finds itself passing nearby when it suffers an accident that kills its captain. Shortly afterward, a transmission of “Take Me Home Country Roads” comes from the planet, which encourages the colonization crew — all of whom are married couples — to consider looking at this for a potential landing site.

Of course, the planet isn’t quite the Garden of Eden that everyone is hoping it’ll be. There’s a giant alien ship, a sinister android lurking about, and a whole bunch of spores that are happy to infect anyone who happens to pass by. Before you know it, neomorphs and xenomorphs start to wreck havoc on a crew that’s completely unprepared for the sheer danger that these things present.

At the center of this story is Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the second-in-command of the Covenant who lost her husband (James Franco, believe it or not) during hypersleep. Shouldering both grief and the sole voice of reason amid a crew that’s a little too eager to colonize the nearest planet rather than waiting another seven years, Daniels finds herself descending into the same fires that Ripley faced (would face?) a few films back.

Unlike Shaw and Call, two previous failed efforts to create female heroes to take up the tradition, Daniels is a worthy successor to Ripley. Even though she looks like a young waif (with a very cute haircut, I’d like to add) upon first impression, Daniels is pragmatic with a backbone that becomes more apparent as the Covenant crew faces crisis after crisis on the planet and in space. None of this is quite fair to her, but she’s got the kind of grit that can go toe-to-toe with the xenomorphs and actually survive to tell the tale.

Alien Covenant is a great-looking film, as you’d expect from Ridley Scott, and he does a much better job here drawing comparisons back to the original Alien (and, to a lesser extent, to Aliens). He nails the tense atmosphere and the gory alien attacks, although Scott doesn’t do too much more that we haven’t seen before. It should be mentioned that it’s also one of the most blood-splattered movies in this series (which is, you know, kind of saying something). It reminded me of how slasher flicks tend to ramp up the body count in later movies just to try to regain the shock value, which is unfortunate here. It also gives us plenty of forehead-slapping moments that are usually the domain of slasher flicks, such as parties splitting up in scary situations or nobody taking common-sense precautions (environmental suits? What are those?).

The Alien movies aren’t really supposed to be slashers, so taking a step in this grim direction degrades its reputation somewhat.

But what I really don’t understand is why some creators feel like they have to go back and fill in backstory with prequels when no one was really asking for it. We didn’t need to know the origins of the xenomorphs — it worked much better with the scant details of a dead alien ship littered with eggs in Alien. Scott’s trying to answer a question that isn’t being asked, and the digressions with the old alien civilization or the android David were among the least interesting parts of the movie. After all, we already know that androids aren’t to be trusted in this universe.

Hollywood has firmly established how little prequel material adds to an overall franchise, especially in the science fiction realm. Star Wars and Star Trek didn’t benefit from it, and the Alien series has spent four films stumbling in this direction instead of boldly striking out in a continuation of the story that Ripley, Dallas, Hicks, and Newt began.

Maybe one of these days we’ll get the Alien sequel that we really want, but for now, Alien Covenant really isn’t half-bad. Actually, it really grew on me and I think it might now be my third-favorite film in this series. The sets and tech is pretty cool and fitting for this universe. Plus, science fiction and horror have a great relationship together with the ability to bounce interesting ideas back and forth, and there’s some of that interplay going on in this movie.

If nothing else, you can play “spot Ridley Scott’s homage to his own 1979 film,” which’ll keep you busy from opening to closing credits.

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