Alien: Covenant ★★★★

Ridley Scott takes on a different human aspiration with each subsequent dive into the mythology he originated: the acquisition of resources in Alien, scientific discovery in Prometheus, and now procreation and colonization in Alien: Covenant. Each of these roads leads to ruin; each road originates with the Weyland-Yutani Corporation.

Weyland's mission of aggressive colonial expansion is powered by an endless thirst for natural resources and weapons development. The monstrous xenomorphs are a perfect complement to this unstoppable viral consumption. If the xenomorph is the rapacious 'perfect weapon' of the Engineers, it's tempting to say that synthetics like David are the analogous creation of humans. But if I wonder if the xenomorph strain created by the Engineers is not more analogous to the corporation itself. The ending gives the truth to this comparison. David is only one individual, but Weyland can manufacture a thousand Davids; in the end, he requires the full muscle of Weyland's capital to truly actualize his creative vision. The bookended uses of Wagner—whose creations came to underscore German nationalism—feel heavily intentional.

Within the corporation-to-xenomorph feedback loop of horrors, individuals can resist and fight back, but more likely they are merely surviving, with their communities and families largely savaged and destroyed. With Prometheus, Scott made the correct decision to pull back from the xenomorphs and explore their origins, and to dive deeper into Weyland synthetics as a counterpoint. Covenant promised a return to the series' trademark xenomorph gorefests, but its horror beats are not only recycled but fairly perfunctory; we know that the individual person's life is forfeit, and death visits each of them with little preamble or ceremony. After establishing this universe's mythological underpinnings, then returning to their traditional form, where should Ridley Scott's Alien films take their ever-expanding story?

My instinct says Weyland-Yutani, where the most questions remain. How do individuals break the cycle? Is there any hope of building community against the isolating violence of both corporations and xenomorphs? Is there a broader purpose to Weyland's attempts to control and weaponize the xenomorph, or is it really just a few rich idiots trying to corner a market, some powerful ideologues obsessed by an imagined purity? It's impossible to ignore the class distinctions of the Alien series; Michael Fassbender is especially perfect as the recent films' blue-blooded cross between a doe-eyed child and Hannibal Lecter. Like his creator, he becomes obsessed by creation, perfection and art in a way that assigns no negative value to barbarism.

Covenant is a film of couples forever interrupted from procreating, and of families dismantled by violence. That makes 'the home' an especially interesting idea. We see Peter Weyland's opulent lakeside art-mansion; David's temple with its ruddy, sanctified studios and birthing chambers; the imaginary Edenic colony of Oram's faith; Dani's dream of a humble lakeside cabin. Which of these ideas of civilization comes to fruition? The ones that are actualized by viral and endlessly self-replicating violence. The others are dreams in the spray.

The film has varying strengths. Others have written about this film as a sullen rebuke to criticisms of Prometheus. There may be something to that, but beyond a little franchise-itis, I found this a worthy if wobbly addition to the canon. The only beat that felt truly cheap was near the end, when Scott cuts away from the fight between Walter and David. It feels like a pulled punch. David's final scene is immensely haunting, but I wonder if it wouldn't have been equally powerful to see Walter decide, of his own volition, to betray Dani and Tennessee and effectively become David. Or to see Walter and David alone on the Covenant, a new Adam and Eve.

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