Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron
Review: 2.5 stars (of five)
It’s hard to judge Prometheus. Do we judge it by the expectations surrounding the idea of Ridley Scott himself doing an Alien prequel some 30 years later? By that measure, in which the new film competes not merely with the excellence of the original, but with the epic stature it has gained with time, the film would have to reveal new worlds, scare us in ways we’ve never been scared before, fix the global economy and eliminate the scourge of reality TV from human society.
We could judge it by its own goals—lofty visuals on an epic scale, and ruminations on what it means to be human, where our origins may lie, and what it’s like to feel like a child abandoned by an uncaring progenitor. By that standard, the film takes a magnificent first half and disappoints in the second, as it not only fails to deliver on those promises, but gets noticeably shaky as the story sinks deeper into nonsense, cheap shocks and cliché.
We could judge it like we judge any movie—is it well-made, and is it worth the price of a movie ticket (an exorbitant 3D one, at that). By that standard, it’s … all right. The ass-kicking visuals and Ridley Scott’s supreme skill as a technical filmmaker, coupled with a strong cast, are a powerful cocktail. By this measure, the film will still let you down, but the wound may be salved by the considerable skills marshaled behind the failure.
(One of the screenwriters here is Damon Lindelof. It should be no surprise that the J.J. Abrams partner who co-brought us “Lost” and the Star Trek reboot can’t successfully land a flashy, epic story.)
Besides the glorious visuals, Scott entertains in the first half or two-thirds of the film by making small nods to the original Alien without overdoing it. The ship has the same sense of grumbling class warfare found on the 1979 film’s Nostromo, where Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto were clearly second-class citizens behind the ship’s command crew. And we’ve got a central female character, this time played by Noomi Rapace. Her well-toned physicality and superhuman bodily endurance are actually more a nod to James Cameron’s Aliens, the one where Ellen Ripley really became a superheroine.
A word or two on the cast: It’s excellent. Idris Elba channels Yaphet Kotto without devolving into parody, and Charlize Theron seems committed to spending the summer being wonderfully creepy and over-the-top. Michael Fassbender is fantastic as yet another Alien-franchise robot, and Rapace brings considerable soul and humanity to a tough role.
Rapace’s physical endurance as the film moves into its desperate third act, however, is one of the aspects in which the film begins to unravel. After self-performing a harrowing, robot-guided surgical procedure that leaves her with a deep twelve-inch gash held together by staples, she goes through the kinds of physical challenge that would defeat most people short of an Olympian.
And where the original film succeeded by delivering claustrophobic monster horror in a compelling, chilling, mysterious way, this film repeats old tricks too often and also lets those more plebian scares dominate the last act, rather than sticking with the new layer of angsty cosmological questioning that consume Rapace and her husband. The two scientists have crossed the vast reaches of space to find out why our creators abandoned—and perhaps condemned—us, but all they find is that there are scary things in the darkness.
And then there’s the (herein undisclosed) final twist of the movie, which is predictable, stupid and sad, a stunt that cheapens all that has come before without adding a hint of resonance to this film or the original.
I expect most thoughtful moviegoers to be ultimately disappointed, but not many will deny having gotten something worthwhile out of the experience. (And you’ll still be dying to see the Blade Runner sequel …)