Darth Vader. The Joker. Voldemort. Hannibal Lecter. For the past 38 years, Ridley Scott's Xenomorph, a relentless predator with two mouths and a nasty habit of incubating inside a human host before bursting from his chest or mouth in utterly disgusting fashion, has been a member of that exclusive list of terrifying cinematic villains with the power to turn just about anyone into a weeping puddle of piss.
So, it takes a man with major balls to come along armed with a flamethrower, douse everything we thought we knew about the alien in fuel, and watch it burn without a moment's hesitation. In Alien: Covenant, things happen which change the very DNA of this franchise. Needless to say, everything beyond this point is laced with enormous, goo-drenched spoilers, so only read on if you've already seen the movie.
Covenant is as much a love/hate movie as you will ever see. Although it does pack a solid hour of alien hunting crew in the classic Alien style, it becomes clear pretty fast that Ridley Scott now has bigger fish to fry than the creature itself. Truth is, the title's a misnomer — this series is no longer a story about aliens at all. It's a story about A.I., about man and his creation.
When we check in with David, the sole inhabitant of the unnamed planet he and Dr. Elizabeth Shaw travelled to after the events of Prometheus, we learn that he's turned the Engineers' city into a lab from which he conducts genetic experiments designed to create the ultimate alien.
His motivations are complex and disturbing — it seems he's developed a God complex born out of the belief that men like Peter Weyland, who are mortal and error-prone, do not deserve to be considered gods, even though the definition of a god is somebody who creates life. A simmering encounter with his physically identical twin, Walter, reveals a huge amount about what's really driving David.
But while that's an exciting direction to take David in, it spins everything about the alien itself on its head. When the crew of the Nostromo encounter the Xenomorph in Alien, the monster is so terrifying because it seems to be the ultimate example of advanced evolution, a primal creature with survival instincts so strong it becomes practically impossible to kill. The suggestion is that nature has created something which threatens, somewhere down the line, to wipe out the human race.
In Covenant, that idea is obliterated the moment we visit David's house of horrors. Instead it becomes clear that artificial intelligence will be the downfall of man. The alien is no longer the product of advanced evolution — it's the product of what happens when a synthetic created by man turns on his creators and decides to play God. Essentially, by creating something smarter than itself, man has engineered his own extinction, not science.
Making the chameleonic David the ultimate villain of the series is an impressively bold move, but also one guaranteed to get people who've been a fan of this franchise for 38 years seriously fired up. It's at once a genius way to expand the mythology of the universe and tell a fresh story about A.I., and a move which threatens to undermine the scare factor of the alien itself.
That's not to say Ridley Scott won't continue to get his kicks out of "scaring the living shit" out of his audiences with the Xenomorph, the Neomorph and any other mutation David might have cooked up by the time Origae-6 is reached. But his real interest lies in exploring what horrors we might have brought on ourselves in our pursuit of A.I., and in the synthetic from Prometheus, he's created the perfect avatar for all of our most paranoid fears about where technology could take us.
Darth Vader. The Joker. Voldemort. Hannibal Lecter. David.
How do you feel about the way Covenant rewrites the Xenomorph's origin?