Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.

 

When faced with the greatest questions in the universe, one can take one of two stances. One can embody humility, saying “I know nothing” as the great philosopher once did. Such a position is likely to fuel a quest of curiosity, in the hopes of better understanding what we are, and what we re supposed to be doing.

On the other side of the coin, one can seek power in displaying their might – in “playing God”. This position is likely to result in bloodshed, and proclaim deep hubris. It’s not interested in understanding what we are as it is flexing might, and showing off what we can do.

ALIEN: COVENANT is a tale of the latter.

Our film begins with a brief prologue re-introducing us to an android named David (Michael Fassbender) and his creator Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce). David is told about his upcoming mission – that he and Weyland will seek the origins of life itself. However, he is also made to understand that even though he is physically superior, he must serve someone who is frail. “Life itself” is unfair that way sometimes.

Ten years later, we cross paths with a spaceship named Covenant. Its crew of thirteen are taking two thousand colonists to a new world, along with one thousand embryos in the hopes of starting life anew. They are watched over by Walter (Michael Fassbender), a newer version of the “David” android modified in several ways. When the ship runs into trouble thanks to a starburst, the craft takes on heavy damage and even loses its captain who cannot be woken from hypersleep in time.

His wife, Daniels (Katherine Waterston) is deeply saddened, but too driven by the mission at-hand to fall victim to her grief. Said mission is now headed-up by Oram (Billy Cruddup), second in command…and a tiny bit unsure of his leadership skills. In the course of repairing Covenant, a strange message is intercepted by the crew. It is a familiar song, and seems to be transmitted through a human voice. The source is a planet that seems hospitable, and is also conveniently nearby.

Oram, thinking the team needs a win, changes the mission to make this new planet the destination of the colonist ship. Daniels quietly disagrees, but goes along with things for the sake of morale.

When the crew reach the planet’s surface, they do indeed find it welcoming, if deserted. No animal life seems to be present…well, none besides some familiar xenomorphic creatures.

After two members of the crew are taken down as hosts and incubators for these creatures, what remains of the entire ground team soon gets surrounded by the predators. It’s then that life on this planet makes itself known.

The aliens are dispatched by David – sole survivor of the Prometheus mission, and the only vaguely human thing on this planet. He invites the crew of Covenant back to his compound for safety and shelter, but doesn’t get too specific about what he’s been up to these past ten years.

 

Katherine Waterston in Alien Covenant

 

It’s interesting to note how Ridley Scott’s prequel chapters to the ALIEN universe (this film, and PROMETHEUS before it) have been divisive at best, if not largely rejected. Perhaps it’s because they took a story that was largely about a monster and cast greater attention on those that help create it – a boring proposition for those who want to see the crew of a spaceship get picked-off one by one. Or perhaps it’s because the films have leaned quite heavily on questions of who we are, where we came from, and what we’re all doing here.

While I believe such questions and ideas make the world a more interesting place – and even add greater texture to the films that followed – it’s quite possible that many don’t want to think about such things while munching popcorn and watching a creature rip a crew apart.

That might be a fun use of two hours and the cost of admission, but for some, the philosophical question on what selfishness and thirst for power can breed is a more interesting idea. Watching the film’s prologue, where a newly created David and an aging Peter Weyland interact, we see a creator underlining way after way in which his creation is “lesser”. We listen to how David can never be “perfect”; never be truly human. He is even named after a masterpiece, but one that upon close examination carries several flaws.

In a very human response, David is consumed by his supposed flaws, and uninterested in his so-called “perfection”. Is that perhaps what fuels his cruelty? Is it what fuels our cruelty?

Perhaps we’d be better off if we all followed Daniels’ lead. Like many heroines in this saga before her, it is she who is able to keep her head and discern what is better for the many than better for the few. She begins the story with an incident of considerable loss, and yet she is able to rise above. What might David have become if he’d been inspired by his moments of weakness, instead of angered by them?

Daniels represents the best of us – the part that is able to voice dissent, but do so in ways that respect the greater effort. She is able to rise above personal tragedy, and recognize opportunities that are too good to be true. Through strength of character and personal mettle, she is the counterpoint to both David’s impetulance and Oram’s insecurity. She is, in many ways, what we should all strive to be.

Quite late in ALIEN: COVENANT it is suggested that if we are kind, it will be a kind world. We, as a species, are not kind – this much is clear. We abuse, we control, we manipulate, we destroy, and we deceive. We create for self-serving interests and then we neglect our own creations.

Is it really a stretch to consider that our unkindness could come back on us? That our creations could turn against us or that the very planet we inhabit could grow inhospitable after so much desecration by its main inhabitants? That, I believe, is the point of this chapter in the ALIEN saga. The very notion that both that which we have inhabited – and that which we have made by our own hand – are influenced so very much by those who hold the power.

How long until we reap what we have sown?

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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