Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron
As the summer blockbuster season approached, Prometheus was among one of the leaders on my “must-see” list. Taking a quick look to the right-hand column of this page, you will find Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic, Alien, firmly placed among my all-time favorite films, so the idea of Scott returning to this universe for what may or may not be an Alien prequel was more than enough to get me to the theater. While the dangers in the original arose quite accidentally with a mining expedition gone wrong, the crew in Prometheus’s mission has far more existential aspirations. Prometheus seeks god-like figures, or “Engineers,” to ask, “what it all means” but only finds the horrors that brought these figures to their doom.
In the beginning, I was completely sold by Prometheus. Its intro is at once mysterious, beautiful, and haunting with a chiseled god-like being drinking a black substance and falling victim to a horrific death. We have no idea what is going on but it is amazing to behold, and once that familiar Alien font slowly reveals the title, I was so ready to re-enter this world. What follows is a feast for the eyes and many moments of great suspense, but its grandiose themes and stock characters hold it back from being truly great.
In the year 2089, two archeologist lovers, Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Halloway (Noomi Rapace, of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo fame, and Logan Marshall-Green), unearth what is seemingly proof of the existence of extraterrestrial “creators” who brought life to the planet. Four years later, they’re in a cryogenic sleep aboard a trillion dollar expedition to a moon in a distant solar system where these beings are supposedly to be found. It is their hope to have deep conversations with their creators to reveal the meaning of life. Of course, things don’t go as planned.
It is unfair to compare Prometheus to Alien, but one of the original’s strengths is one of Prometheus’ most glaring weaknesses. Where Alien took careful time to develop each member of the Nostromo’s crew so that when the monster is finally wreaking havoc aboard the ship, our hearts are racing for every character’s well being. This tactic is not effectively used in Prometheus, as the crew just becomes a string of uninteresting bodies. When the expedition takes its turn for the worse, they are just stand-ins for cool ways to show an alien attack. Even when heroic sacrifice is needed, the emotions just felt a bit hollow. The film is a pleasure to look at but the emotional substance is lacking no matter how hard it tries.
Prometheus does take its time to effectively develop a few characters; it also takes its time to develop Charlize Theron’s icy corporate supervisor, Vickers, and Idris Elba’s down-to-earth Southern captain, Janek, but neither were all that interesting. The lead roles, which warrant the most attention in the film, belong to Rapace’s Shaw and David (Michael Fassbender), the obligatory android in the Alien universe. Shaw is no Ripley (damn Alien comparisons again), but there is depth behind her motivations that instills a rooting interest in her survival that is lacking for most of the others. This makes your heart pump extra hard for her well being during Prometheus’ most suspenseful sequence. The time given to develop David’s character is also worthwhile. Fassbender portrays him as the soulless android he is, but there is just a hint of humanity underneath. We understand that David has spent the trip carefully studying what it means to be human, through the reading of his shipmates’ dreams or embodying Peter O’Toole from Lawrence of Arabia. David's actions may be programmed and calculated but Fassbender’s complex, robotic performance is one of the film’s highlights. However, some of his seemingly “programmed” actions have grave consequences but little explanation. For that, David can remain somewhat a mystery, which can be okay sometimes, but was more frustrating in Prometheus.
Many huge questions are posed throughout the film while the crew searches for the god-like beings that created life on Earth. Prometheus tries to tackle issues of creation, the meaning of life, and immortality but the pseudo-science that is used to help explain these issues feels forced and becomes distracting. I love to be challenged by a film when the writing is worthy of that challenge. Unfortunately, Prometheus often feels like it's trying to be smarter than it actually is, which is exactly when the plot drags. Like Alien, Prometheus is at its best when it takes itself a little less seriously and amps the horror.
I’ve been highlighting a lot of the negatives I found in Prometheus, but I want to make clear that there is a lot about this film to admire. The special effects are excellent throughout, the aliens provide the right amount of creepiness, and the suspense during the alien sequences is always at full throttle. I just wish that Prometheus embraced its horror and action aspects a little more (like Alien or James Cameron’s Aliens) rather than trying too hard, and not quite achieving, to also be intellectual.
Overall, I found Prometheus to be a solid effort at times, though mostly disappointing. Its good aspects are excellent, but there were too many parts of the film that dragged to prevent it from becoming something special. As is, however, I’d definitely recommend it to people if you were a fan of the Alien saga. The scene that proclaims Prometheus as an “official Alien prequel” alone is cool enough to make me excited to see if there are more adventures to be told in the lead up to Ripley and company’s entrance into the story aboard the Nostromo.
Mark it 5.