It is a dark and stormy planet. Cloud covered, downpour drenched, lightning lit.
It is the world of “Alien: Covenant.”
Ridley Scott’s latest is a direct sequel of his 2012 sci-fi epic “Prometheus,” set 10 years after the events of that picture. But it’s the first cousin of the movie that started it all, his 1979 masterwork “Alien.” Same haunted house feel, with spooky chains clanking in cavernous dark spaces where water ominously drips and menace lurks in the gloom. Same basic plot of a massive spaceship lured to an uncharted planet by a mysterious signal of unknown origin. And there, a fearsome fate awaits all onboard.
Same sort of doughty heroine taking the final fight to the monster. She’s clad at the end, one can’t help but notice, in the same sort of tank top Sigourney Weaver wore at the climax of the original. Even — Ridley, you sly kidder, you — the same goofy little plastic toy bird sitting atop a control room console rhythmically dipping its beak into a glass of water.
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Oh yeah, and same big old leathery eggs.
It wouldn’t be an “Alien” movie without them. And sure enough, here’s a doofus leaning in for a closer look. For crying out loud! Do not, repeat, not(!) lean in to … aww, now see there? What just happened? Stupid! Just try getting that thing off your face.
It’s all “Alien Classic,” only with more of everything. More victims. More aliens.
More aliens erupting out of more places: people’s backs, people’s mouths and, of course, people’s chests. More running. More screaming.
More blood. Lots more blood.
There is also, this time, a strong strain of “Frankenstein” wound around the basic DNA. Synthetic human David (Michael Fassbender), survivor of “Prometheus,” is back to welcome the arrivals and to explain what happened to the other survivor (Noomi Rapace). (Hint: It wasn’t good.) And it turns out he’s been spending his time building a better monster.
The human crew members are mostly ciphers. They might as well have their foreheads stamped with big VICTIM signs, and despite all their frantic scurrying and screaming, their deaths have little resonance. Even Katherine Waterston, playing the character closest to Sigourney Weaver’s tough-minded Ellen Ripley, is a pale, whinier copy.
In his dispassionate HAL-like voice, David explicates his feelings of android superiority to ordinary humans. “You will die. I will not.”
He shares his aliencentric viewpoint with another android, Walter, also played by Fassbender, who is on the “Covenant” crew. In a relationship heavy with homoerotic overtones, David seeks to seduce Walter into seeing things his way.
Scott certainly knows how to orchestrate his scares. Yet at the same time, there’s something oddly comforting about the familiarity of the goings-on in “Covenant” (that’s the name of the ship). After five previous installments in the franchise, there aren’t too many ways it can still surprise you and still be what it is. You come to an “Alien” movie with certain expectations: creepy thrills, impressive production design, chest busters, acid saliva.
Going back to basics, Scott delivers what we’ve come to expect in “Covenant.” And how.
☆☆☆ 1/2 out of 5
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride.
Director: Ridley Scott.
Running time: 2:03.
Rated: R, for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity.