Alien: Covenant (2017) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Same old monster horror

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“Alien: Covenant” gives us exactly what we can expect from another entry from the franchise which has lasted for more than 35 years since “Alien” (1979) burst upon us. Again, a group of characters in a big spaceship go to an unknown place and then come across something quite dangerous, and the movie works to some degrees while not having much awe or surprise for anyone familiar with its enduring franchise.

As shown from its prologue/main title scene, the movie is a sequel to “Prometheus” (2012), but it starts its story with a different set of characters. Several years after what happened in “Prometheus”, a big spaceship, named Covenant, is sent into the universe for the colonization of some inhabitable planet far away from the Earth, but a big radiation storm happens in the middle of its long journey, and its crew members have to wake up from their hibernation sleep for repairing the considerable damage caused by this unexpected incident. While this emergency is quickly ended and then everything is under control, they unfortunately lose their captain as well as some of the hibernating passengers in the spaceship, and Daniels (Katherine Waterson), a terraforming expert who is also the captain’s wife, is particularly devastated by that.

Meanwhile, there comes another unexpected happening. Not long after the repair of the spaceship is completed, a mysterious signal is detected, and they come to learn that the signal is being transmitted from a nearby planet, which is virtually unknown but seems to be as inhabitable as their destination planet. Despite Daniels’ reasonable objection, Oram (Billy Crudup), who becomes the new captain of the spaceship after the previous captain’s death, insists on checking up that planet just in case, so the spaceship soon heads for that planet.

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Of course, the planet gives them an ominous sign right from its very first appearance. The landing turns out to be quite difficult due to a big ion storm, and the area where they land is filled with disturbing gray silence. As Daniels points out at one point, there is no sign of animals although many plants not so different from the ones in the Earth grow well here and there, and Daniels and other crew members become more nervous when they come across the remnants of an alien civilization. As the camera looks around the open ground covered with many calcified bodies, you may be reminded of those exhibited bodies of Pompeii, and this unnerving sight further accentuates the increasing sense of menace around the screen.

Because it is already revealed in the trailer, it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that they are soon going to encounter that infamous creature of the franchise and some of them will be killed in one way or another. Once everything is set up for its horror mode during its second half, the movie throws a number of striking bloody moments at the audiences, and some of them will definitely make you cringe for good reasons.

However, these moments also feel like same old things we have seen before, and the movie does not give us anything particularly new. While there is indeed an intriguing story part involved with two different android characters played by Michael Fassbender, that is eventually hampered by the predictable third act, and the finale does not work as well as intended because we already see it coming from the distance.

Furthermore, many characters in the film are not that distinctive, and it is a shame to see most of its notable cast members being stuck with their flat characters. Katherine Waterson, who has been more notable since her supporting role in “Inherent Vice” (2014), brings enough pluck and intelligence to her character, but her character still feels rather bland compared to Sigourney Weaver’s iconic character in “Alien” or Noomi Rapace’s character in “Prometheus”. While Billy Crudup does not have many things to do except usually looking glum, Danny McBride is surprisingly effective in his non-comedy role, and Demián Bichir and Carmen Ejogo are seriously wasted in their almost nondescript roles.

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In case of Fassbender, he surely has lots of fun with his dual role, and most of compelling scenes in the film come from his convincing duo performance. Whenever his two characters are on the same screen, we always tell the difference between them thanks to the subtle touches in his acting, and that is why his performance is alternatively chilling and poignant.

Anyway, “Alien: Covenant” is not a wholly bad movie at all thanks to the competent direction by Ridley Scott, a master filmmaker who has never made any truly awful movie during last 40 years. Even those missteps like “Legend” (1985), “Black Rain” (1989), “Hannibal” (2001), and “The Counselor” (2013) were not entirely without something good or interesting to mention, and the same thing can be said about “Alien: Covenant”. The movie is slick and smooth in terms of technical aspects, and I did enjoy how much it looks good on the screen. Jed Kurzel’s score effectively uses Jerry Goldsmith’s theme for “Alien” during a few key points in the film, and I could not help but feel a bit nostalgic as Goldsmith’s theme was played on the soundtrack.

On the whole, “Alien: Covenant” is one or two steps below “Prometheus”, which was not without flaws but admirable in its ambition and scope. That film was willing to reach for greatness, and I was entertained by that even though I experienced some disappointment in the end. In case of “Alien: Covenant”, it is just mildly disappointing, and that is all.

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