By Joe Hammerschmidt
“Alien: Covenant”, the latest entry in the storied career of one Ridley Scott, delivers on reconstructing the legendary franchise so unexpectedly you’ll wonder whether you’re watching the original all over again. And in the wake of its immediate predecessor “Prometheus”, which unfortunately I had no idea it was a sequel to and thus had gave myself literally no time to watch beforehand, there’s enough evidence to the expansion of the universe it lends itself into, while unfortunately not explaining much in regard to unanswered questions about the mythology. Still, not necessarily a bad thing, given what Scott aims for is to remind us what had been at stake between humans and xenomorphs to begin with.
Rejoining the plot a decade after the events of “Prometheus”, colony ship Covenant embarks on a seven-year trek toward Origae-6 for the purpose of repopulation. Following the sudden loss of their captain (an underused James Franco) after a major strike, a surprise transmission leads first mate Oram (Billy Crudup), his wife Karine (Carmen Ejogo, pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride), witty android Walter (Michael Fassbender), terraformist Branson (Katherine Waterston) and their wayward crew to intercept to a nearby, unknown, and far smaller planet with abundant creatures throughout, the likes of which still resemble the talented work of H.G. Giger, who had been involved with the design aesthetic of the series since the start. From there, as the middling alien wildlife take root in endless attacks, a second android named David (also Fassbender in a seamless dual role), an earlier prototype of the Weyland-Yutani Corp, introduces the wayward crew to his own findings, besting the crew in their own absent-minded expectations.
Right from the sharply-produced prologue scene, the sparkling interlude between both Walter and David, sharing two opposite sides of Fassbender’s uniquity in acting choices. Walter, the more updated version with an American accent, feels most at home amid his human subserviants; David, the Brit, who waxes on about Wagner, secretly harbors a middling scorn for humanity, how they painfully had rejected his gifts early in his development. Fassbender easily builds on what I would assume was a meritable role in the previous film, yet he isn’t necessarily the cast MVP. Waterston, who I’ve personally enjoyed in capable supporting performances since “Inherent Vice” makes a great leap forward to leading lady; while the similarities between her performance and that of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in much of the original four films are hard to ignore, Ms. Waterston finds many rectifiably subtle ways of distinguishing one’s self from hype, leaving the soul of a character tortured by a painful loss at its varied stages. McBride, who no matter his given role, just makes comic relief seem effortless, while ensuring a sense of emotional brevity. And Crudup, whom I never had considered that insightful an actor, managed to surprise me as his professional values nearly jeopardize the mission, and any chance of a relationship between Waterston’s scientist.
How Scott plays that loss card, and every other in his deck of tricks shows he still possesses the chops to play storyteller to world unimaginable. In the darkness which comes with finding loved ones suddenly gone forever, especially when each crewmember is carrying their spouse in tow on this excursion, to fail in recognizing that part of the coping means to be permanently trapped inside, and possibly attacked by creatures via maulings or pathogenic invasion. Coupling that with much of the old-school effects and Scott’s flawless knack to allow us to feel each moment, this film is easily a testament to a franchise finding its rhythm once more, going back to how we were as followers of the original work, willing to appreciate what had been found then, and what could be discovered now. Whether that same principle can apply to the eventual conclusion of this prequel series, which will eventually tie the whole knot together, remains a possibility. As you seek to dive into this captivating work of science fiction, a warning: do not make the same mistake I made. Please watch “Prometheus” first; chances are it might not be as confusing as you’d expect. (B-)
“Alien: Covenant” opens today at most area theaters; rated R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity; 122 minutes.