REVIEW: Alien Franchise Showing Signs of Age

In 1979, Ridley Scott gave the sci-fi world a little classic called Alien. Using a perfect blend of science fiction and horror, it set the precedent for not only the rest of the film series but countless knock-offs that have followed over the years. In 1986, Aliens expanded this Xenomorphic universe with an action flick that turned Sigourney Weaver’s character of Ripley into one of the cinema’s legendary female heroes. Unfortunately, the years and sequels/prequels that followed have muddied the waters a little bit. Now, director Ridley Scott is back for another go at the franchise he started nearly 40 years ago, but can he set it back on course?

Alien: Covenant, the second prequel and sixth film overall in the series, continues the tale started in Prometheus with yet another crew on another ship receiving another distress call. This time it’s the Covenant, a colony ship headed for a far distant planet with 2,000 colonists and a thousand embryos. They’re going to terraform the planet and start a new life amongst the stars. While the crew is still in a deep sleep, an energy surge damages the Covenant, killing the captain (played briefly by James Franco) and waking the crew. Synthetic android Walter (played marvelously by Michael Fassbender) helps the crew recover as new captain Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) reluctantly assumes command of a skeptical crew.

When they receive an odd transmission from a nearby planet, which appears to be more hospitable than their original destination, Oram orders the ship to alter course and investigate. This is against the better judgment of his first officer Daniels (Katherine Waterston), who is still recovering from the loss of her husband, the now deceased former captain. Upon landing on the planet, they soon discover that it is home to neomorphs, precursors to the xenomorphs we have previously seen. As it turns out, this planet is something we’ve heard of before and the loose ends of Prometheus start to come together in a truly frightening way.Alien: Covenant is a very uneven film that starts off on very familiar territory. We have a crew divided on their course of action and a distress signal from a random planet. Whereas we cared about the crew of the Nostromo, there are simply too many people here that begin dying in rapid fashion. Their interpersonal relationships are mentioned far too often and don’t really help in getting us to care about them. However, the first part of the film offers us some variety, including some chilling scenes of the neomorphs attacking through wheat fields. The daytime scenes on the planet are also a refreshing change of pace from the usual dark hallways or nighttime action. Scott is able to retread some previous plot devices in a convincingly new way that seems fresh for the most part.

However, the film falters at the halfway point, turning into a random series of deaths of characters we didn’t really care about in the first place. Throw in some unnecessarily confusing plot twists about the fate of the Prometheus crew, and the filmgoer begins to get lost. The cast is uneven as well. Danny McBride is good in the role of Tennessee, chief pilot of the Covenant. Unfortunately, Katherine Waterston’s character of Daniels seems to pout incessantly and comes across as a pale version of Ripley. She redeems herself a little in the final act but, ultimately, never reaches the level of importance that Ripley did. Michael Fassbender stands out in the dual role of David/Walter, securing his status in the franchise for the next installment, which reportedly is on track. The new neomorphs are interesting, more so in the first half of the film, paying homage to the xenomorphs of the past. However, they lack the slow and subtle grace found in the original films, a product of this new and faster CGI world we now live in.

Alien: Covenant is still a worthy sequel to Prometheus despite its’ flaws but fails to live up to the first two films in the franchise. While the proposed sequel to Aliens has thankfully been shelved, Ridley Scott is moving forward with the third prequel. Hopefully, we get a slightly more original plot as this franchise needs some fresh ideas.

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