I hated “Prometheus,” the first of Ridley Scott’s attempt at “going George Lucas” on the “Alien” franchise, with a handful of pointless, poorly constructed and really stupid prequels. “Prometheus” was a very dumb horror movie posing as intelligent science fiction, wherein every character was too stupid to live and rightly died a gruesome death. I was rooting for death in “Prometheus” because I hated the characters so much.
Ridley Scott returns with the second film in his “Alien” prequel series, “Covenant.” Rather than correct some of the glaring mistakes in the “Prometheus” script, Scott decided characters in “Covenant” needed to be even dumber. It’s almost like he’s giving an aged middle finger to everyone who bagged on “Prometheus,” saying: “You think the ‘Prometheus’ crew are idiots? The ‘Covenant’ crew is going to make them look like Rhodes Scholars.”
Characters being too stupid is often highly entertaining in horror films. When watching a bunch of sex-crazed college kids head to a cabin in the woods no one questions their idiotic logic. The scenario lends itself to the idea of splitting off from the group to get some grade-A groin action or take a hit from that fancy new bong. This makes being murdered by an axe-wielding maniac easier and, frankly, more fun. Being too stupid to live is harder to justify when characters are scientists and space travellers on an intergalactic vessel. Watching someone with advanced degrees in physics and astrological cartography peak into a throbbing alien egg feels too stupid for this particular story.
It’s 10 years after Prometheus’ crew discovered some advanced alien engineers and terrifying black goo, then all died stupidly. We meet the crew of the Covenant, a spaceship designed to take 2,000 settlers to a new world. Like all films with this premise, something goes wrong with the ship—because you can’t have a movie set in space where the ship doesn’t break down. The crew is woken up seven years too early, and James Franco is cooked like a microwave burrito faster than you can say, “What the hell is James Franco doing in this movie?”
Daniels (Katherine Watterson) is devastated by the loss of her husband who was also the captain of the ship. The crew tries to recover from this loss and begins to question their next move. Smart, well-educated people would have made the repairs, jumped back into their suspended animation pods and been on their merry way. Not the Covenant crew. When they get wind of a distress signal from a nearby planet that could potentially host human life, they decide to investigate. Because that’s what people who are too stupid to live would do.
They arrive on the planet and almost immediately are violated by familiar black goo, which tears through them faster than a glass of Guadalajara water with an eye-drop chaser. Soon enough, we’ve got alabaster variations of everyone’s favorite alien xenomorph-killing machine, slitting throats, amassing the kind of body count expected from a movie with “Alien” in the title. We soon learn David (Michael Fassbender), the malicious android who survived “Prometheus,” has spent the last 10 years doing his best Doctor Frankenstein impression but has run out of test subjects. If only there was a spaceship nearby with a lot of passengers and a crew dumber than a box of hammers. Wait, that’s unfair: A box of hammers could actually be useful.
“Alien: Covenant” is another insufferable sequel that does nothing new. There are some fun ideas being played with, but the franchise struggles to walk a line between a light philosophy and stupid action/horror hybrid. Michael Fassbender is a delight when he’s on camera. The whole movie should have been about his cybernetic mad-scientist schtick. There’s enough story there for his crazed robotic creation, but the movie feels forced to work in tired scenes of an alien in a claustrophobic environment killing fools.
Much like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Alien: Covenant” suffers terminal sequel syndrome: too beholden to the franchise to be original and painfully redundant.