Alien: Covenant (15)

Three stars

Dir: Ridley Scott

With: Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup, Katherine Waterston

Runtime: 122 minutes

THERE is such an ocean of gloop in Ridley Scott’s sequel to Prometheus one is tempted to advise the wearing of a wet-suit to the cinema. The many-toothed monsters have always been prone to a bad case of the drools, and then there is the whole way they, er, tend to enter the story’s fray. It is enough to make even hardened viewers of One Born Every Minute quake.

Even so, you will need a strong stomach to sit through Alien: Covenant. A willingness to go where fans of the franchise have boldly gone several times before would not go amiss either. Scott’s picture also suffers from being more than a little obvious, but no-one goes to see an Alien movie for its subtlety, and if it is nuance you are after, Michael Fassbender, back on ultra-creepy form as a “synthetic”, or android, can supply plenty of that.

It is 2104 and the good spaceship Covenant is taking 2000 colonists and crew from Earth to a new planet they intend to make a forever home. When Scott opens proceedings, however, there is only one bod on screen, Walter, going about the business of checking all is okay on board. Walter is a later, more sophisticated, version of David, the handsome synthetic we first met on Prometheus (2012). Both are played by Fassbender. Walter/David moves like a resting ballet dancer and sounds like Larry Olivier by way of a mindfulness coach.

Minutes in, the ship runs into trouble, a bad omen if one was minded to heed omens, and Alien watchers always are. While repairing the ship, one of the crew, Tennessee (Danny McBride) picks up a rogue signal. The sound is traced back to what looks like a habitable planet much closer than the one they are heading for. Should the crew, led by man of faith Oram (Billy Crudup), take a leap and head for this promising planet, or should they do as no-nonsense woman of science Daniels (Katherine Waterston playing this year’s Ripley) says and stick to plan A given they really don’t know what is out there?

Oram, never presumably having seen an Alien movie, opts to take a chance, and before you can say, “Is that really a good idea, Captain?” there are fluids, bodily and otherwise, human and otherwise, sloshing around all over the shop.

No more of the plot details lest it spoil the surprises Alien: Covenant does have to spring. With a franchise hit such as Alien, the audience expects a certain amount of formula, and Scott certainly supplies it in the structure of the story and several of the characters. It’s all here, present and correct: the early disaster, the communications failure, the sudden onset illness. Even Ripley looks from the same mould as the original, complete with sweat-stained vest.

Yet the familiarity does not breed contempt because Scott can still deliver an extremely effective scare when he has a mind to. As Samuel Johnson never said, the science-fiction/horror fan who is tired of seeing an alien explode from the body of a host human is tired of life.

If the blood, gloop, inhuman screeching and special effects are not your bag, there is plenty to savour in the performances, with Waterston making an impressive Ripley, even finding a way to add some dashes of vulnerability where we had come to expect none. Scott is very taken with Fassbender’s androids, and gives over large chunks of screen time to them. As well he might. The machine trying to pass as a human is as much the stuff of nightmares now as when Hal 9000 introduced himself.

Also for your consideration this week is The Levelling (three stars), the deeply impressive feature debut from Edinburgh-based filmmaker Hope Dickson Leach. Set on a failing farm in Somerset after the floods, it is a sombre, moving tale of a family in crisis, with a star-making turn by Ellie Kendrick as the daughter trying to hold everything, and everyone, together.

Alien: Covenant, general release. The Levelling, GFT and Filmhouse, Edinburgh, May 12-18.