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By Neil Merrett.
By the conclusion of Ridley Scott’s Alien Covenant, the franchise only has room for one iconic monster and it’s not the one with acid blood
There seems to be a lot for critics to dislike in Alien Covenant, the third move in the Alien series to be directed by Ridley Scott. However, Michael Fassbender’s role as the android David does not seem to be one of them.
Unfortunately, it is a performance that may finally bring down one of cinema’s most iconic monsters. A creature that has survived the combined might of Sigourney Weaver, endless studio interference and PG-13 spin-offs.
Like the parasitical creature at the heart of the Alien franchise, Michael Fassbender’s David violently bursts out of the bloated corpse of the latest prequel/sequel movie as a fully realised movie monster. Not so much a hellish creature of acid blood and jutting jaws, but a charismatic and determined shell of a man that seeks to play with the concept of life, as his own creators once did.
David: “Why do you think your people made me?”
Halloway: “We made you ‘cause we could”
David: “Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?”
In a film of poorly fleshed out characters and utter stupidity in the face of avoidable death, David is the only character in the movie to truly consider the ramifications of where humanity came from and where it may be going. In doing so, he is far from content with the answers he comes up with.
David is a monster of nurture, rather than nature then.
When first introduced in the movie Prometheus, even though he is an android, David overshadowed every human character in the movie, a performance of a certain quality that highlighted the shallowness of its other characters.
By its sequel, he has also come to overshadow the very monster of the series itself.
In Covenant’s conclusion, most sane people would probably take a quick death such as those that befall the movie’s numerous throwaway characters rather than the fate of the main heroines of Prometheus and Covenant, played by Noomi Rapace and Katherine Waterston respectively.
On a surface level, Fassbender’s David is guilty of planet-wide genocide and uncaring murder – not bad going for any aspiring villain.
Yet, as is the case for all truly great horror stories, it is in insinuation and shadow – the things that are not seen – that unforgettable terror is defined.
It is David’s actions in between the movies, those which are only alluded to in the latest film, that are the most effective and chilling. David, by the start of Covenant, has made his own forms of life, while he tinkers and plays god in order to try and make a “perfect” organism – nothing is left by the time the film catches up with him. He is out of raw materials, until a shipload is delivered quite literally to his door.
David’s creators make clear to him that his existence is that of a machine. He is a being compromised of parts that can be replaced and repurposed. His thoughts and experiences are lesser portrayed to be of less importance and value that those of his human creators.
Raised with such a viewpoint on what it means to create life, why then should David view any other form of life as being different to himself?
Rapace’s Shaw then cameos in Covenant as a physical prop, her head, although recognisable, is something that is no longer human. A character that was defined as being unable to create life in the original film, is now seemingly the starting point for a new species. The random horror at the centre of the Alien series is reimagined as something much more disturbing.
If Covenant’s planned sequel is never realised following a reportedly disappointing box office and critical reception, the mind can only boggle with what David can come up. Armed with 2,000 human embryos, two prototype face huggers, a sedated Katherine Waterston and a fresh planet to populate, what terrors lead to the first Alien film are perhaps best left to our imaginations.
David then is bizarrely a mixture of a Hammer Horror monster and a David Cronenburg villain.
Think the almost pantomime-like monstrosity of Christopher Lee’s Dracula, mixed with the doomed ambition and brilliance of Jeff Goldblum’s character in the Fly, Dr Seth Brundle.
Over the course of two ultimately underwhelming films, Ridley Scott has created a character whose story arc seems to serve as a form of spiritual sequel to his other iconic sci-fi creation – Blade Runner.
In short, David is seemingly a high-end Apple product with a god complex and a doozy of a creative streak.
Wonderfully realised by Fassbender, the paradox of the character is that he ultimately removes the last remaining elements of mystique and unknown terror about the Xenomorph creature.
After nightmarishly bursting out of John Hurt’s stomach decades ago to instantly become the stuff of nightmares, the alien creature was the definition of nature at its most savage and terrifying. That such a creature could be formed in the dark voids of space and be waiting for us was a key part of its appeal.
Born form forcibly impregnating creatures and then springing from their lifeless body, the Xenomorph was for many people the definition of unknowable, primordial fear.
Yet we now know the creature’s origins are the by-product of something much more awful and unforgivable.
In its place, a timely reminder that monsters in real life come in all too human, charismatic forms.
But is the quality of Fassbender’s portrayal of David really worth sacrificing the mystique of one of modern cinema’s great monsters? Time may or may not tell.
But whether we see the next of Ridley Scott’s Alien movies come to fruition or not, David continues on his mission alone and determined. Who knows what he will get up to next?
It’s always the things you don’t see that prove the most terrifying.