While I’ll try to avoid much by the way of spoilers, it’s pretty much impossible to discuss Prometheus without going into some small about of detail. If you’d rather see the film totally fresh, come back later.
Ridley Scott produced two of the great sci-fi films of the 70s and 80s, Alien and Blade Runner, but he hasn’t revisted the genre since then. When it was announced that he would be revisiting the world he first created in Alien, it was greeted with a fair amount of scepticism. Would he be able to recapture what made those early films so special, and to build on them in a meaningful way? Let’s find out.
Prometheus has two preoccupations. The first is telling a grand, 2001-esque tale about the origins of mankind, artificial intelligence, and what happens when we play fast and loose with either. The other is tying all this to the Alien films (well, some of them – Prometheus handily tramples all over the continuity of the Alien Vs. Predator films) – something that happens sporadically.
Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a series of apparently unconnected cave paintings that show humans worshipping giant figures, all pointing towards the same star system. Assuming this is an invitation from these creatures, they convince the dying Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) to fund an expedition that will hopefully uncover the origins of life on Earth.
Overseen by icy company representative Vickers (Charlize Theron) and android David (Michael Fassbender), plus a crew of scientists, mercenaries and pilots, they quickly come across a pyramid that seems to hold the answers they seek. Naturally, not all goes well, and the crew quickly find themselves in scared, confused, and far from the answers they hoped to find.
From the first moment, Prometheus is a handsome production. It eschews the cramped corridors of Alien in favour of sweeping vistas, sprawling ruins, and the bright, sterile environment of the Prometheus itself. As well as being beautifully shot, the design is astonishing. The design of the technology looks brand new, and the alien structures and creatures have just enough of an echo of the original Giger-led designs to shadow Alien.
The cast are broadly strong, with varying amounts of screentime. Lead Noomi Rapace is decent but by no means outstanding as a wide-eyed scientist (mercifully, Shaw is no Ripley analogue), but Michael Fassbender gets the standout role as David, the ship’s android. David’s total lack of desire to be human, his borderline contempt for them, and his barely-concealed glee in attempting to hide this is probably the best thing about the film. A mass of gentle tics and wry (often missed) humour, he’s very different to androids from the Alien films, and all the better for it.
Sadly, the beauty and cast are thrown at a frequently muddled, unsatisfying script. There’s nothing wrong with ambiguity – Scott’s own Blade Runner is categorically proof of that – but Prometheus is too muddled, too full of variations on the same themes vying for attention to provide a satisfying framework for any potential ambiguity to hang from. In the end, we understand too little to spark the debate a film like this needs.
Ultimately, the themes Scott is playing with here could likely have been better addressed in a film totally divorced from the Alien universe – the film walks a fine and ultimately unsatisfying line between trying for something new and nodding respectfully at its B-movie forebear. While it’s categorically not a bad film, neither strand feels fully satisfying.