‘Alien: Covenant’ is both predictable, incomprehensible

You won’t find it on rottentomatoes.com, but the guy who left the screening of Alien: Covenant ahead of me had a pretty good review of the movie:

“That … could not have been more obvious.”

Agreed. Key elements of the movie’s plot are completely predictable, an attribute that somehow coexists with the fact that the movie is often incomprehensible, despite the four-person team of writers hired to extract a meatball of coherence from the spaghetti of non sequiturs served up in the  most recent Alien movie, Prometheus.

The writers engage in what is known as retcon, short for retroactive continuity, a puffed-up oxymoron (worse even than athleisure) that sounds like something your accountant produces in advance of an IRS audit.

Wikipedia defines it as the injection of new narrative information that changes our understanding of a story. We used to call this bull. Homer Simpson, in seeking to explain to Marge the 30 minutes he spent at the bar instead of the supermarket, might inject the “retcon” of a flat tire.

In any event, the writers have a daunting task. Prometheus, a prequel to the entire multi-movie Alien yarn, got lost explaining the origin of the aliens (called xenomorphs) and, for good measure, we humans.

The movie suggested both species were created by the Engineers, a humanoid race that produced the xenomorphs in a botched science experiment, and seeded human life on Earth by dropping their DNA kit into the ocean. (Humans as sea monkeys. Just add water.)

Many confused fans wanted to know why an Engineer, apparently creating the xenomorph race from scratch, would have a preexisting xenomorph sculpture in his lab.

But there are more basic questions. Why diminish the mystery of one of cinema’s great horror icons with taxonomy – why give the creature a name at all?

Or a ponderous backstory?

Alien ranks as one of the great horror movies of all time because of what we do not know about the title character. The movie was about Sigourney Weaver’s last-woman-standing resourcefulness and grit in the face of the unknowable and unkillable — it’s what makes her heroic.

The Weaver stand-in here is Katherine Waterston, second in command (to Billy Crudup) of a spaceship taking human colonists to a habitable planet. The ship is diverted to investigate transmissions (John Denver!) from another planet, lush with plants, devoid of animal life, littered with the remains of a dead civilization.

Scott has offered Covenant as an apology to fans who wanted more xenomorphs and more gore, and all that stuff is there in abundance. Most characters (the cast includes Danny McBride and a returning Michael Fassbender) are flagrantly expendable. They exist to perish, and do so with none of the white-knuckle engagement that accompanied Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens.

There is carnage, the pseudo-spiritual pretentiousness of Prometheus, then an ending that announces itself, loudly, midway through the picture, the moment all the planet’s inhabitants are fully accounted for. There is no way to miss the arc of this Covenant.

Scott plans more of these, but this retcon job has gone on long enough.

Sir Ridley: How about a sequel to Gladiator?

MOVIE REVIEW

Alien: Covenant

Directed by: Ridley Scott. With: Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Michael Fassbender. Distributed by: 20th Century Fox.

Parent's guide: R (violence, nudity, grossness).

Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes.

Playing at: Area theaters.