Religious motifs in the upcoming Alien and X-Men movies

Religious motifs in the upcoming Alien and X-Men movies April 30, 2016

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Two quick notes about Alien: Covenant and X-Men: Apocalypse.

First, the studio released our first image from Alien: Covenant, the upcoming sequel to Prometheus that will tie that movie even closer to the existing Alien franchise — and it’s an image of the mission patch worn by the crew of the Covenant.

What is the Covenant? Well, according to the movie’s official synopsis:

Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created in ALIEN with ALIEN: COVENANT, the second chapter in a prequel trilogy that began with PROMETHEUS — and connects directly to Scott’s 1979 seminal work of science fiction. Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, the crew of the colony ship Covenant discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world — whose sole inhabitant is the “synthetic” David (Michael Fassbender), survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition.

Note the angelic figures touching their wingtips. That’s a pretty clear reference to the Ark of the Covenant, which was most famously represented on film in Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (and in one of the Indiana Jones sequels):

raidersofthelostark-2

Interestingly, Alien: Covenant director Ridley Scott has sort-of depicted the Ark of the Covenant before, but he did so without the traditional iconography. In the epilogue to Exodus: Gods and Kings, we see an elderly Moses sitting in a wagon, patting a crate behind him — and it is strongly implied that the crate contains the tablets of the Law that we saw Moses chiseling years earlier, in the scene just before this one:

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Note how plain the crate is, without the gold plating and without angelic figurines.

The Ark of the Covenant was famously described by Belloq, the villain of Raiders of the Lost Ark, as “a transmitter, a radio for speaking to God” — and Prometheus, the last film in the Alien franchise, was all about humans trying to meet their alien makers. Will the crew of the Covenant also be trying to speak to their creators? Do they have a “transmitter”, a special way of communicating with their “gods”? Do they have some reason to assume that a “covenant” exists between the aliens and themselves, or are they being a little presumptuous by invoking this terminology?

We may find out when the film comes out next year, on October 6, 2017.

Meanwhile, the same studio also released a new clip from X-Men: Apocalypse this week, in which Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) talks about how there has been a rise in “cults” devoted to the mutants ever since the events of Days of Future Past:

Note: this film takes place in 1983, and the mutants became public knowledge in 1973. Most of the previous films take place decades later, in the early 21st century — but unless I’m forgetting something, I don’t recall there being “cults” of this sort in any of those films. There was a lot of talk about the mutants being victims of discrimination, yes, but I don’t recall any counterbalancing adoration of the mutants, even though Magneto went around saying mutants were “gods among insects,” etc.

The religious talk is significant here because, of course, the main villain of this film is an ancient mutant who claims to be God, basically, and is now trying to bring about the end of the world — and also because this film will bring back Nightcrawler, the Catholic mutant who was last seen over a decade ago in X2: X-Men United.

But the notion that people have responded to the rise of mutants by creating “cults” around them… well, it’s of a piece with other trends we have seen in superhero movies of late, most recently in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where people bow down before the Man of Steel — or look up to him as he hovers above them — and Lex Luthor explicitly frames the titular showdown as a battle between God and man.

It remains to be seen where the new X-Men film will go with this idea. But I like the fact that it acknowledges the religious impulse in human society, just as previous films in the series acknowledged the political impulse and other social impulses.

X-Men: Apocalypse opens next month, on May 27.

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