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‘Alien: Covenant’ lacks heart-pounding excitement of franchise

In space, no one can hear you say, “Meh.”

I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t get 2012’s “Alien” prequel, “Prometheus.” I rewatched it last week, and I still couldn’t tell you what it’s about. But at least it was interesting, both visually and thematically.

“Alien: Covenant,” meanwhile, is more straightforward yet far less wondrous.

In 2104, 10 years after the events of “Prometheus” and 18 before what’s become accepted as the time frame of “Alien,” the colony ship Covenant is en route to the far reaches of the galaxy and Origae-6, the new home for its 2,000 passengers.

Then a stellar ignition severely damages the ship, and Walter (Michael Fassbender), an upgraded synthetic based on David from “Prometheus,” awakens the crew from cryosleep. Well, all of them except the Covenant’s captain, who’s burned to death in his pod, leaving Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge and Daniels (Katherine Waterston) a widow.

During a space walk to repair the Covenant, pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride) picks up a rogue transmission that he eventually recognizes as a scrambled, broken, barely audible snippet of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” The crew trace the broadcast to a planet that appears more hospitable than the one they were headed to, so a scouting party is sent to the surface, where, much like in “Prometheus,” someone gets infected with something, and all bloody hell breaks loose.

Directed by Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Prometheus”), this time from a script by John Logan (“Skyfall”) and first-timer Dante Harper, the plodding “Alien: Covenant” takes a good 45 minutes to get going. Then, despite brief bursts of action, it’s roughly another hour before it really starts to feel like an “Alien” movie. The filmmakers even take time out for one character to teach another how to play a primitive recorder in a scene that seems to drag on for days.

With the exception of Fassbender, who’s simply Fass-cinating, Waterston and McBride — mostly because of how odd it is to see “Eastbound & Down’s” Kenny Powers playing it straight — the cast is impossible to follow. Again, aside from Fassbender, there’s no character development, so there’s no reason to care whether anyone survives. Whenever someone wailed about the death of so-and-so, I never had an inkling of who bit the alien dust.

There’s also a “twist” that’s so thuddingly obvious, it’s a wonder anyone pitched it, let alone got a studio to sign off on it.

Without giving away too much, “Alien: Covenant” directly connects “Prometheus” to “Alien,” providing closure to the prequel’s story in a way that its ending — Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) blasting off with David’s severed, still communicative head in a duffel bag — never did.

It’s nowhere near as bad as “Life,” this spring’s other alien-running-amok-on-a-spacecraft movie. But for a franchise known for things bursting out of people’s chests, this one will barely elevate your heart rate.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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