It breathes, It Hunts…It Kills…and has its legacy diminished by Michael Fassbender’s anticlimactic prequel!
When legendary director Ridley Scott returned to the dark and hostile world of the Alien universe, our excitement was dialled to eleven in anticipation of a return to the format that brought us to the dance. The sublime plotline of the original Alien, despite being borrowed from IT! The Terror From Beyond Space, an all time classic in the sci-fi horror genre, was an enthralling and distressing journey of pure claustrophobia and terror.
The horrifying Alien Xenomorph creature, inserted into a human host by the spider-like Face Hugger which was spawned by the strange Alien eggs, was enough to terrify a generation of fans and haunt their nightmares for a lifetime. The unsettling confinement aboard the cramped hallways and air ducts of the starship Nostromo proved to be the perfect environment for Ridley Scott to share his horrific tale before visionary director, James Cameron arrived to take the franchise to the next level.
Cameron’s Aliens, was the film that broke the mould and went on to be regarded as one of the only movies in Hollywood history to arguably surpass its predecessor. Fresh from his directorial duties on The Terminator, Cameron leaped into the Alien franchise with an elaborate vision that would see the Xenomorph creature reproduce in vast quantities to face off against Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, and her brave team of battle hardened Colonial Marines. With the subtitle “This Time It’s War” we were thrust into a interspecies conflict filled with pulse rifle gunfire and explosions aplenty which ultimately translated into a roller coaster ride unlike any other.
Every resulting sequel has paled in comparison and despite Ridley Scott returning to the franchise with his thought provoking prequel, Prometheus, a return to the form the franchise was once famous for seemed a long way off. That was until the release of the long awaited sequel to Prometheus, Alien: Covenant. The title excited the fans with the promise of returning to the formula that launched the series, but when the credits rolled at the end of the movie, one thing became very clear…the Alien Xenomorph was no longer the terrorising threat it once was.
The reason for this was a simple one. Michael Fassbender.
The talented actor, famous for his roles in the X-Men franchise as well as performances in movies like Assassins Creed and Macbeth, has proven his mettle in recent memory and in taking on the role as David in Prometheus, went on to cement his position as a top performer amongst Hollywood’s A-List talent. Being cast as David, the synthetic human robot of Prometheus, Fassbender assumed a role that was designed to replicate the impact made by his predecessor, Ash from the original Alien and in doing so, played a pivotal role in the unfolding narrative of the movie itself. With the intrepid crew of the research vessel searching the stars for the engineers, a race of humanoid aliens suspected of having engineered humanity on a genetic level, we were thrust into an origin story that included the engineers desire to commit mass genocide and wipe out the race of humans it had propagated in eons past.
The pathogen that they had genetically engineered to systematically wipe out every living thing on earth, had been released into their environment by chance and had exterminated all but one of their number stationed within the planet wide laboratory. Once awakened, the last remaining “Space Jockey” set off to complete his directive and deliver the death plague to earth until the crew of the Prometheus thwarted his plans. However, set against the backdrop of the story was David’s quest to identify the pathogen’s properties and followed him as he set about infecting members of the crew with small doses of the “living bacteria”.
This culminated with the birth of the first Alien Xenomorph creature. The crude abomination was born at the very climax of the movie whilst David, and the surviving Doctor Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) went off in search of the engineers’ home planet. In Alien: Covenant, we were treated to more of the same. The tone of the movie was tailor made to match that of the original Alien, but adopted the familiar cinematography of Prometheus in order to explain the intricate detail of the Alien’s evolution. Ordinarily this would have been a welcome plotline, however as the movie progressed, the history of the entire Alien franchise unravelled into a disappointing anti-climax that at its heart had Michael Fassbender’s David.
The timeless tale of man creating life in his own image, only to have it turn and destroy that which created it plays out in the most unwelcome of fashions and takes with it the mysticism that the Alien franchise built its foundations upon. Once isolated on a lush wasteland of an earth-like planet and the custodian of a vessel carrying the deadly organic pathogen within its cargo hold, David continues the research of the engineers and propagates the bacteria’s transformation into a symbiotic organism designed to prey upon all organic life. His fascination with their genetic manipulation leads him to create the first Alien egg which holds within it’s walls the traditional Face Hugger.
Luring the captain of the Covenant into his lair, David unleashes his creation and facilitates the birth of the first genuine Xenomorph, which makes its long-awaited return to the screen. The creature’s resurrection should have been a triumphant return to the series, but with it receiving little more than several minutes of screen time, it fades into the background of the movie, replaced by Michael Fassbender’s dissection of the Alien mythology. What role the Xenomorph plays in the grander narrative of the movie aside, the mystery of the Alien mythos has finally been revealed, and disappointingly, it all boils down to a human creation, engineering an organism designed to wipe out its maker.
God creates man, man plays god and creates life, and that life ultimately destroys its creator.
For his part, Michael Fassbender performs his role with unswerving ability and leads the cast with his usual brilliance, but that cannot hide the fact that Alien: Covenant swiftly established itself as a story detailing David’s quest to create the perfect organism, with the conception of the classic and adored Xenomorph being a fortuitous by-product. As a result, Covenant is an Alien film in the loosest sense of the term and has over simplified the origins of the Alien species to the point where the mysticism crumbles away with disheartening results.
The mystery of the Alien franchise has been the bedrock of its mythology for almost forty-years, but it has been irreparably eroded by the revelations of Covenant which results in the film being somewhat of a disappointment. For years, the fans have dreamt of a fantastical lineage for the Xenomorph species and now, when all is said and done, it all boils down to them being a side-effect to the breakthrough of human creation.
Despite this disappointment, Alien: Covenant was a solid entry into the franchise. But, if it is the sign of things to come, we should all fear for the quality of the narratives set to be revealed in the final chapter of the Alien prequel saga, which will supposedly reveal the arrival of the alien craft on planet LV-426.
All critique aside, only time will tell if this tree of doubt bears any fruit. In the meantime, James Cameron’s masterful Aliens: The Director’s Cut, should see us through the dark times and restore our faith in the franchise. Failing that, why not embrace the movie that truly launched the franchise in IT! The Terror From Beyond Space.
Until then, enjoy your cryo-sleep and remember…in space nobody can hear you scream…even film critics!