Alien: Covenant is at its best when it’s pedestrian as opposed to anything else. Director Scott botches all of the big action set pieces; the more CGI vehicles involved, the worse it gets. The first false ending action sequence has “protagonist” Katherine Waterston suspended in mid-air from a careening CGI space ship while she fights a CGI alien in front of a CGI backdrop. Scott brings zero energy to it, which is appropriate as Waterston brings zero energy to her performance.
Waterston gets second-billing, even though technically Billy Crudup’s deeply religious captain gets more to do. He actually gets to do something with his character arc. Waterston’s is all in the first act and the film rushes through it. In space, no one has time for character development, especially not when Scott is setting up the film’s premise.
A colony ship experiences a freak accident then discovers a mysterious signal from far away. So they go and investigate. Aliens and another Michael Fassbender (he’s already in the movie on the ship) show up to make things difficult. The Fassbender they find is the one from the previous movie in the franchise–Prometheus, not Alien: Resurrection, though John Logan and Dante Harper’s script is loaded with desperate callbacks to the original series. Even more desperate is when Scott tries to do them. All it does is remind not just of better films but better acted ones.
Fassbender is fine, though a little too restrained for the absurd roles he’s got. Playing opposite himself, his ability results in some good scenes–made pedestrian by Chris Seagers’s worst production design on the film–but everyone else is mediocre at best. Crudup occasionally seems like he might try, but there’s nothing to do with the part it turns out so he gives up. Carmen Ejogo is so wasted as his wife, it’s never clear if she’s religious too (religion is frowned upon in the future, something the disasterous outcomes of the plot confirm as a good). Danny McBride has a big part as one of the ship’s pilots. He’s atrocious and not even comically so, because Scott has absolutely no sense of humor. Not even when he’s desperately trying to remind the viewer they probably liked at least the first two Alien movies.
Besides Fassbender, who’s uneven in one of his roles–he kind of flops with the blandly American accent–Demián Bichir is probably best. He’s got nothing to do, but at least he never embarrasses himself.
The score is either Jed Kurzel’s generic action music or Jerry Goldsmith’s themes from the original Alien; in space, the nostalgia is strong.
The sad part is even when he’s not contending with too much CGI, Scott just doesn’t have the pacing. Not to make it scary, not to make it exciting. Though he’s not the problem. Not even the script is the problem (well, not until the tacked on, way too long third act); it’s Waterston, Crudup, McBride, and the assorted supporting cast members who have no presence and only occasional competence. Scott doesn’t seem to think directing his actors is important. It’s not clear what he thinks is important to direct in Alien: Covenant. He’s not even energetic enough to be desperate.
Dariusz Wolski’s photography is mostly good. Not so much when he’s in Seagers’s dreary catacombs or any of the night scenes. But he’s much better at lighting Covenant than, say, Pietro Scalia is at editing it. Everything, even when it’s genially pedestrian, goes on too long.
Kind of like this franchise, at least with Scott steering it.