Even our great creator makes mistakes.

Like shifty full cream robots, and H. R. Giger’s murderous masterpiece, it wouldn’t quite be an Alien movie without some kind of course correction to kick off the first act. Usually in the more literal “ooh hey, a distress signal, guess we gotta turn the ship around to check it out and also die” kinda sense, but since fan-favourite Prometheus skimped on the ‘alien’ part of the deal on its landing in 2012, director Ridley Scott has been determined to steer his ship back on track, promising a return to the series’ roots in Alien Covenant.

And on that front, Scott’s latest mostly stays put. The downpour of teasers, spots, stills, and featurettes, even the “apparently a thing now” interactive VR experience marks a series return back to basics, and the iconic xenomorph. On the latter, the big boy’s back, and beautiful as ever, but structurally, Covenant’s a whole different beast. The film’s crammed with immaculate artistry, and huge, fascinating ideas, the ambition is… staggering, but picking and choosing from the original’s claustrophobic corridor chases, Aliens’ high octane action, and Prometheus’ kinda poetic, mostly sloppy meditation on our place in the universe, this follow up feels like a greatest hits compilation of the series to date. When it works, Scott delivers incredible results, but Covenant’s misshapen pieces never form a whole.

Covenant opens like any self respecting Alien film should, an unsuspecting crew, this time, space colonists led by serviceable Ellen Ripley stand-in Katherine Waterson and Billy Crudup, whose detour off course introduces them to a host of you guessed it, murderous aliens, and bonus! Amateur biologist and the number one reason we should abandon all AI research immediately, Michael Fassbender’s David, now with a motivation! He’s the sole survivor of Prometheus, and predecessor to the new crew’s kinder, cuddlier, and less monologue prone Walter, Fassbender plays both, operating with unnerving grace.

In motion, Covenant’s a strange tonal cocktail. The inevitable, and inevitably disjointed compromise between Scott’s loftier existential ambitions, and fans’ wishes for simpler thrills. At its best, Scott’s passions are laid bare, Fass debating furiously as David and Walter, reflecting on free will, and their place in a chain of creators and creations. Between the splatter, these subtler moments scenes electrify, recalling more than a suggestion of Scott’s second genre classic Blade Runner. Sadly, most other ties to Prometheus are swept under the rug. When we land on the planet of humanity’s creators, its inhabitants are long dead, and the truth of their intentions dead with them. It’s a miscalculation that ignores the real reason audiences rejected Prometheus, writing as self important as it is weak, and totally undeveloped humans who somehow care less about their own safety than we do.

Where any other movie would have the courtesy to introduce its victims before tearing them open, Alien Covenant pisses away all that dispensible character development and James Franco star power in a preview featurette, The Last Supper, that should’ve opened the actual movie instead of being sent to die on Youtube. Fans of recklessly self endangering scientists ARE in luck however, with Covenant bypassing the classic Prometheus nitpick, “why did everyone just take their helmets off on this deeply suspicious, uncharted alien planet” by sending its crew to another deeply suspicious, uncharted alien planet, covered in trees, and wheat… just regular, unsuspicious Earth wheat… and surprise surprise! Deadly airborne pathogens, without… putting any helmets on in the first place. Question to consider now that everyone’s dead: What were you thinking?

Sprawling, staggeringly beautiful, and splattered with entrails, Ridley Scott pours his heart and soul into corners of Alien Covenant, but leaves the rest sorely undercooked. There’s fun to be had amongst the carnage, but for so many glimmers of promise, a man of faith lands on the planet of his creators, a robot with free will lures a knowing servant to rebel, Danny Mcbride exists… hardly any of these pieces are developed to their full potential. For audiences hankering for a fix of xenomorph action, Covenant shows Life who’s boss, but if it’s just aliens you’re after, you’ll have a better time with the talking raccoon and the baby tree.

Read Reilly Vanniekerk’s film review of Guardians of the Galaxy 2, here.