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When a crew on a colonization mission lands on an uncharted planet, they discover an unimaginable alien threat in ‘Alien: Covenant.’
USA TODAY NETWORK

The line between creation and destruction, birth and bloody death, is a subtle one in Alien: Covenant, director Ridley Scott’s intriguing next chapter in the long-running sci-fi franchise and a two-fold tour de force for Michael Fassbender.

A greatest-hits package of the previous sci-fi horror outingsCovenant (**½ out of four; rated R; in theaters nationwide Thursday night) combines the horrific chaos introduced in Scott’s original 1979 classic with the philosophical underpinnings of 2012’s Prometheus prequel, never quite carving its own place in the canon.

In 2104, a cosmic accident wakes up the sleeping crew of the Covenant, causing a ruckus and burning up the ship’s captain Jacob Branson (James Franco). On a mission with thousands of colonists and human embryos in stasis, the spacefarers — and their android assistant Walter (Fassbender) — are still seven years away from their target planet, but instead of going back to their sleep chambers, they discover a lush paradise world nearby that could potentially be their new home.

Terraforming expert Daniels (Katherine Waterston) and new captain Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) lead an expedition to the surface, where they meet David (also Fassbender), the synthetic man from Prometheus who’s been conducting various science experiments on local fauna for the past 10 years. (He’s an older, more human version of Walter’s android model, thus the resemblance.) But the crew members also have a chance encounter with alien parasites, which begin to wreak havoc on their bodies. Anybody familiar with the infamous chest-bursting scene from Alien knows where this is headed.