The acclaimed filmmaker Ridley Scott resurrected his iconic sci-fi franchise five years ago and the project was hugely divisive amongst audiences. Now he is back again to direct the sequel to his prequel with Alien: Covenant, which takes place a decade after the events of Prometheus. Set in 2104, the story follows the crew of a colony spaceship as they embark on a mission to find a new home for humankind. After they suffer a tragic setback on their quest, first mate Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) and second-in-command Daniels (Katherine Waterston) must work together to reach their destination with the help of resident synthetic android Walter (Michael Fassbender). Their plan changes when they intercept a strange radio transmission from a nearby planet, leading the expedition on a deadly detour into the unknown.
The narrative adopts a slow and steady pace from the outset, taking its time to flesh out a convoluted backstory and introduce the wide array of crew members involved on the journey. Jed Kurzel’s suspenseful score succeeds in creating a sense of threat, but there are just too many faces to give proper depth or to achieve any emotional investment. When danger looms, the dialogue often becomes laughable and the unfathomable stupidity of the characters led me to root for the aliens. The horror movie elements work rather well in spells, and although the jump scares are somewhat clichéd, they are also effective. The extra-terrestrial creatures are terrifying when attacking their prey at breakneck speed.
The performances of Michael Fassbender have been hit-or-miss of late but he is undoubtedly the standout in this cast, delivering two interesting turns as different models of the same robot. As well as portraying the aforementioned loyal servant Walter, he reprises his complex role as David from Prometheus. Scenes involving the two are amongst the film’s most enjoyable, bringing a satisfying mix of humour and intellect to a story that lacks an edge. Waterston is solid enough as the latest strong heroine of the series, but doesn’t meet the standards of Weaver or Rapace before her.
When a magician reveals how he pulled off his greatest trick, an essence of lustre and mystique is inevitably lost from his act, which is what Ridley Scott has managed to do to a degree with his beloved film franchise. By developing and dissecting the overarching concepts in detail, the ‘fear of the unknown’ tension associated with the original is lost and it feels as though the Xenomorph trump card is played too soon and too often. When the squad arrive at the unnamed planet and tell David all about their designs for colonisation, he replies “Extraordinary!”. Unfortunately for Alien: Covenant, its biggest problem is that it is too ordinary.