'Alien: Covenant' brings the pain — and lots and lots of philosophy

Unlike with 'Prometheus,' Ridley Scott will give you your aliens. But you have to listen to all his thoughts on God.
Published : May 06, 2017 Updated : May 07, 2017
Alien: Covenant
Some familiar sights return in the latest "Alien" prequel, "Alien: Covenant." Credit: Fox

‘Alien: Covenant’
Director:
Ridley Scott
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

What you want from Ridley Scott’s “Alien: Covenant” is perhaps not what Ridley Scott wants to give you. You want kills — slimy, drooling beasties with razor sharp teeth turning stupid, easy-to-eat humans into alien chow. Scott will give you plenty of that. But while you’re here, might you want to hear all his thoughts on God? With “Covenant,” he’s like the grandpa who tells you he’ll give you ice cream — but only if you listen to his lengthy story about when he was young.

 

Thing is, they’re not uninteresting thoughts. And the way Scott manages to marry two, not necessarily incompatible things — deep, stoner-y thoughts and hot alien action — is sporadically clunky but one or two more screenplay drafts from being elegant. Set 10 years after Scott’s 99 percent Xenomorph-free “Promethus,” “Covenant” finds a new batch of doomed travelers, on a ship setting off for another, hopefully better world, far away from Earth. Perhaps the people of 2017 would like to join them. But only if the crew aren’t as dumb as the one here, whose members nip on down to a closer planet (which looks suspiciously like New Zealand) without first ensuring it’s definitely not crawling with hostile lifeforms.

 

It is, and it’s also crawling with David, the fastidious, Wagner-loving, possibly evil android played by Michael Fassbender in “Prometheus.” Fassbender gets more screentime than the hungry monsters, especially since he’s also playing Walter, another, newer, less self-aware bot. You might not have come to listen to David’s poshly-accented splutterings — Plus some homoerotic Fassbender-on-Fassbender action —but what “Covenant” gives us might, in a way, be scarier than a simple slasher pic. (We’re dancing around spoilers; let’s just say this will make a fine addition to some grad student’s paper on “post-human cinema.”)

 

It’s easy to be cynical about “Alien: Covenant,” which really only exists because everything old must now become new again. But there’s honor and sincerity to what Scott is doing. Reverse-engineering one of his greatest triumphs, the 1979 original, into a series of philosophical blockbusters is, frankly, pretty badass. You can picture him telling execs there will be blood, then smirking to himself, knowing he was also going to sneak in lots of stuff he read in old Carl Sagan books.

 

There is indeed blood — and overqualified actors (like Katherine Waterston and Carmen Ejogo and Billy Crudup) bringing real humanity to under-written characters. And some disappointing, overly-digital aliens. And then there’s the fact that Scott has never been great with directing action. (“Alien” is slow and shows almost nothing. Ditto “Blade Runner.” They’re also his best films.) It’s a mixed bag that still works better than it should, given its absurdly huge ambitions. And given the soullessness of most movie world building these days, we’ll take it.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
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