Alien: Covenant (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
27Nov/170

Alien: Covenant (2017)

A decade has passed since the crew of the Prometheus disappeared into the cosmic abyss, becoming a footnote in history.  Undeterred by the failure of the Prometheus, humans launch the colony ship Covenant to stake a claim on a distant planet.  The crew of the Covenant is unprepared for a horrific accident and in their desperation finds a signal that holds the answers to what happened with the Prometheus.  Ridley Scott directs Alien: Covenant, with the screenplay written by John Logan and Dante Harper, and stars Michael Fassbender, Katherine Watson, Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride.

I found great delight in the opening minutes of Alien: Covenant  (Covenant moving forward) as the ostensible adult in the room patiently leads a child stuck in a man's body through the questions that dogged viewers of Prometheus.  Meta commentary sometimes rankles me, but the twist in this exchange is how David (Michael Fassbender), with a child's lack of tact, recognizes Peter Weyland's (Guy Pearce) careful posturing for covering up his fear of death.  So the child and adult change places, fulfilling the promise of the mythical Prometheus as the spark of fire passes from human to android, and Peter watches in fear as he realizes he's created a perpetual monument to his mortality.  Just what was the crew of the Prometheus trying to do?  Find some way of staving off their fear of death by trading one unknown for another, the answers are secondary to keeping the question alive.

Where Prometheus took a dizzying tour through many styles of science fiction, Covenant keeps a Dragnet parody approach - the  facts.  Director Ridley Scott keeps the mission clear, goals within reach, relationships straightforward, and the planet a surprisingly lush wilderness filled with secrets.  Scott then goes about systematically planting the seeds of failure or outright crushing the hopes of those aboard the colony ship Covenant.  It's a direct rebuke to those who found Prometheus too confusing or the actions of its characters nonsensical by presenting wide-eyed hopefuls repeatedly traumatized by human nature.

The infested skin of the human crew serves as a shocking and on-point visual about the destruction they are capable of.

Could the humans of Covenant really be at fault for the stellar burst that damages their ship?  Not directly, but the hubris of humanity lies in its civilizations thinking they can conquer whatever frontier they set their eyes to.  This hubris is more subtle in Covenant, giving us a less direct visual window into the banalities of their existence and exploring how every safeguard humans can come up with can't stop humans from mucking up their goals.  The safeguards highlight the frailty of our connections, giving new android Walter (also Fassbender) a "mother" to answer to in a throwback to Alien, having the majority of the crew being married couples, establishing a firm chain-of-command.

The threat is always from within as human impulse goes against these safeguards.  Scott and screenwriters John Logan and Dante Harper find a deeply unsettling way to communicate this internal threat.  The dark goo of Prometheus has evolved and become a spore.  As David reveals the history of the spore to the startled crew of Covenant it feeds right back into humanities capacity for holy vengeance.  So the threat goes inside literally in a cheeky scene of a crew member smoking which disturbs the spore long enough for it to take root inside his ear canal.  In other terms, poison created by humans awakens same, and results in a transformation even this longtime Alien franchise viewer was surprised by.

I'm used to the image of humans used as giant eggs to incubate alien species, which made the spore-like eruption of boils under the infected man's flesh a disturbing evolution.  The destruction caused by the aliens used to be something injected from a rapist, now it's a direct result of humanity's overall capacity for evil.  There's still an echo of that when one of the pale newborn aliens drops its baby-smooth disguise to reveal a mess of teeth on the end of a familiar phallic head.  But humanity corrupts with the strength of an unrestrained plague, dooming species on their arrogant quest to dominate the cosmos, and answering David's question as to whether humanity is worth salvaging at all.

For the record I'm team David all the way as it's hard to think we're much good to the universe in our current state.  Scott remakes David as a Prospero figure with wild hair and a staff that banishes the hostile aliens from the ruins of the civilization his "adopted daughter" destroyed.  Covenant's production leans heavy into the fantastic elements of science fiction, crafting a lair worthy of Merlin where chemistry, technology, and biology produce creatures that might cause humanity to question its place in the universe if we hadn't already decided that in advance.  The scene with David and Walter is heartbreaking for the former and a dark echo of the opening.  Instead of self-actualizing and realizing the power David can give him, Walter continues along his path of forced servitude as a pale reflection of mankind.

David attempts to pass the fire of knowledge onto Walter with mixed results.

It's such a given that David has charted humanity's interstellar fate that the rest of the crew fails to make much of an impact.  Danny McBride's Tennessee is the exception, showing once again that McBride can bring complexity to seemingly simple roles, as he updates the ramshackle frontiersmen of previous Alien entries into someone proud of his work and its aims.  This doesn't really bother me though, humanity had its chance to make an argument for its existence with Weyland and the crew of the Prometheus.  Now that the Covenant has arrived it's time for David to live up to the promise of evolution and make humanity into something more useful to the cosmos.

Covenant is best approached as a companion piece to Prometheus and less its own film.  The Prospero imagery and vile potential of humanity is well communicated in those infected boils, but the more piercing elements come as a direct result of those who left Prometheus shaking their heads.  It's a foolish hope, but I'm satisfied with ending my journey with the Alien franchise here.  There will be no satisfactory answers without the reminder that we are all fleshy machines exploited for the benefit of another.  That's one reminder I can do without, even while appreciating the finality of the artistry in Covenant.

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Directed by Ridley Scott.
Screenplay written by John Logan and Dante Harper.
Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Watson, Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride.

Posted by Andrew

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