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MOVIES: Alien: Covenant - Review

After the philosophical themes of Prometheus turned out to be more divisive than expected, Alien: Covenant seemed to promise a welcome return to the horror elements which made Ridley Scott's original film such a classic. Indeed, the trailers and TV spots focused heavily on gore-streaked moments of terror while highlighting a sense of camaraderie among the crew members of a doomed colonization vessel, and the tone felt more in line with previous entries in the Alien franchise.

With that in mind, the marketing geniuses at Twentieth Century Fox deserve a hearty round of applause for their ability to convince moviegoers that Alien: Covenant would actually deliver the film they were hoping for. By accentuating the handful of moments that were guaranteed to resonate with fans and masking the film's true identity as another plodding, unnecessary exploration of the origin of the xenomorphs and that age-old sci-fi trope, the nature of humanity, the studio has executed a superb bait-and-switch.

When a solar flare causes catastrophic damage to the Covenant, a group of emergency crew members are roused from cryo-sleep to make repairs. Newly appointed captain Oram (Billy Crudup) wants to investigate a distress signal from a nearby planet, which just so happens to be better equipped to sustain life than the vessel's original destination. As second-in-command and one of the few characters that actually behaves like any sane, rational person, Daniels (Katherine Waterston) is staunchly against the idea - as she plainly points out, "we don't know what the fuck is out there."

The answer is death - this is an Alien film, after all - but the vast majority of the horrific circumstances which befall each of the crew are completely avoidable. When descending onto an unknown planet, you would expect these colonists - many of whom clearly have some kind of military training - to be equipped with some kind of environmental protection, and it's pretty ill-advised to start poking and prodding any strange growths you find. Also, quarantine protocols exist for a reason, and if you willfully ignore them, you pretty much waive your right to be surprised or dismayed when something terrible happens.

As the team's numbers dwindle, they cross paths with a familiar face who takes a special interest in Walter (Michael Fassbender), a Weyland automaton bearing a striking resemblance to the original "David" model. This encounter leads to Alien: Covenant's most maddening sequence, a lengthy exposition dump which completely rewrites the mythology established in the previous film, while simultaneously providing the xenomorphs with a genesis so ill-conceived and uninspired that it basically serves as a giant middle finger to anyone invested in the foundation laid by Prometheus.

With its paper-thin plot and pedestrian scares - not to mention a collection of characters that are practically indistinguishable except for each person's one unique characteristic, like "wears a cowboy hat" or "smokes a cigar" or "believes in Jesus" - Alien: Covenant is a staggering disappointment, a failure on almost every conceivable level that feels like a hastily produced knock-off rather than a true franchise installment. Two months ago, I would never have believed that sci-fi thriller Life could possibly turn out to be a better Alien film than Scott's next effort - but I'd sooner watch that flick on an endless loop than revisit this one ever again.

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