The setting? The far reaches of space, of course. The characters? A loveable bunch of couples with far too much to lose. The foe? A foreboding, hero-goading, chest-exploding, ode to old-fashioned sci-fi aliens. So what could go wrong? See Alien: Covenant if you want to find out.

The story unfolds as robot assistant Walter (think Rosie the Robot meets Data in a Michael Fassbender shell) awakens the crew of a ship destined to colonize a far-off planet so that they can handle an onboard emergency. Now awake (and bored?) the crew chases after a curious transmission they track to a planet perfect for human colonization. Mysteriously, in their years of preparation for their mission they seem to have missed this speck of the universe. What to do, what to do…well, nobody is ready to go back to sleep for another seven years, so they decide to forego all plans and explore the unknown planet. The crew takes its dangerous detour, and before we know it, they start dropping like flies.

Now I’ll admit that the film starts out quite strong. Our first encounters with the aliens are raw, visceral (literally), and flat-out fun. It’s exactly what those of us who grew up watching Sigourney Weaver stare down a nasty mini-alien (emerging from its mama like an angry, possessed tonsil) had hoped for—good, old-fashioned, sci-fi horror.

But the plot soon twists and betrays us loyal fans. The struggling crew stumbles upon David (Fassbender again), an out-of-date Walter who you will of course remember from Prometheus. David seems to have a few screws loose and we start to question his motives as we learn what he’s been doing on the planet all these years.

Unfortunately, this plot shift means that the filmmakers couldn’t resist the latest trend in horror – storylines centered on artificial intelligence and questions of what makes us human, what motivates us, and how quickly those motivations can turn dark. In chasing after this latest AI craze (whose level of success has ranged widely from Ex Machina to Morgan) the filmmakers leave us true scary movie fans in the dust as they veer off course in pursuit of the next generation of snapchatting, selfie-taking, app-downloading, millennial moviegoers. Unfortunately, they chase them straight off a cliff and drag the rest of us along too.

As soon as the plot plops, the film flounders. It shifts from fun to frustrating. The alien-centered scenes still manage to deliver amusing, almost zombie-level gore, but that only makes us wonder what the film could have been if they had only stuck with what made the original so good – the age old-conflict of man versus the unknown. Humanity versus crazy, diabolical creature. But instead we are left with one too many Fassbenders and far too few flame-throwing, rifle-wielding defenders of humankind.

Fassbender does quite well with the piddly plot and weak writing he is handed. Katherine Waterson nails it. Even Danny McBride delivers, which makes me especially happy because he’s an original fan of the films. But despite this epic cast and some fun scenes and special effects, it’s just impossible to move past the disappointing story to actually enjoy this movie.

SpecialK verdict: Even a few frighteningly fun alien attack scenes can’t save Alien: Covenant from its own plot. See it if you insist on keeping up with the franchise, but take my advice and forego the pricey theater seat for your own couch.

Alien: Covenant opened Friday, May 19. 

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