Alien: Covenant (2017)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 5/27/17
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz, cameos by Guy Pierce, James Franco

Taking place ten years after the events in "Prometheus" (2012), the Earth spaceship "Covenant" is heading towards a distant planet with a cargo of hibernating human colonists when they intercept a strange transmission. Much to the crew's disbelief, the message seems human in origin, so they decide to track down the source. Unfortunately for them, they end up on a planet that's teeming with nasty xenomorphic parasites, and the crew starts dying off at a rapid rate. Prometheus's android David (Michael Fassbender) shows up to help the survivors, but his motives are unclear and years of solitude have rendered him insane. Tough as nails Daniels (Katherine Waterston) lives long enough to discover the planet's horrible secret and goes head-to-head against the classic xenomorph from the original "Alien" (1979).

While "Prometheus" was a baffling and confusing philosophical detour, "Covenant" plays it safe by cloning the overly familiar plot of the original "Alien" film and bringing nothing new to the table other than state of the art visual effects. Ridley Scott's obsessive attention to detail is admirably impressive, and the film looks outstanding. The art direction is superb, and the sets, architecture, vehicles, creatures, and environments are simply stunning to look at. Unfortunately, Scott's apparent love of the material results in an overly long and bloated film with glacial pacing. It's an extremely slow starter, and the meditative dead spaces between action scenes bleed any amount of suspense or dramatic tension out of the film. Instead of being tense and scary, the film seems perfectly content with just being gross and gory.

The characters are generally likable, so seeing them get picked off one by one is disheartening. Michael Fassbender delivers an excellent performance as both the psychotic David and a newer model android named Walter. Katherine Waterston gives a nail-biting performance as the brave and resourceful Daniels who has to quickly transform into a fearsome warrior to stay alive. She has a lot in common with Sigourney Weaver's Ripley character, and does a good job of hiding her emotional vulnerabilities behind a tough exterior. I was impressed by all of the female characters, as they're portrayed with strength and intelligence, and treated with dignity and respect. Faris (Amy Seimetz) and Upworth (Callie Hernandez) were probably my favorite characters.

It's easy to condemn the film for being a derivative rip-off, and while I felt a certain amount of disappointment, it's better than any other "Alien" sequel outside of "Aliens" (1986). It's definitely a top-notch production, and I counted no fewer than 800 digital effects artists in the credits, which just blows my mind. I have no idea how you would coordinate a team and effort of that size.