An Alien prequel set in the Alien universe that really isn’t about those aliens.
When two archaeologists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), discover a common pictogram among the ruins of ancient but unrelated civilizations on Earth, a star map emerges that points to a distant solar system with an Earth-like world. Petitioning aging industrialist Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) to fund a “mission to talk to God,” the Prometheus is launched to chart the planet and learn if the star map is real. Upon investigation, hidden agendas begin to emerge not only from our so-called alien creators but among the investigators themselves, specifically from corporate boss Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and the mission’s artificial person David (Michael Fassbender). When everything is finally exposed, it isn’t just the fate of the crew of the Prometheus that will be called into question, but the fate of all humanity as well.
The best thing about Prometheus is the production; it’s a gorgeous movie with big sets, huge scope, and incredible design. The worst thing about this film is the advertising; audiences expecting the aliens made famous by Ridley Scott’s original Alien may feel let down by how little it has to do with the aliens we’re already familiar with. This is the story of “the space jockey,” the seated, petrified creature found in one of the chambers before all the facehugger eggs were found. Prometheus is similar in story to James Cameron’s sequel Aliens, where real monsters wear suits and employees are ordered to their deaths (but without the cool space marines and orbital nukes to save the day). This is a thinking disaster film, sprinkled with clues from the very beginning and driven by the most selfish of motives, but the real plot appears to revolve around parent/child and creator/creation themes that instruct the motivations of these characters, and that’s pretty deep for a film this pretty. What else did you expect from Ridley Scott?
The film is chock full of what-the-hell moments, but taken as a whole, there’s sense to be made that might not sink in initially. Sadly, this is as much of the actual story as can be revealed without giving the entire plot away; clues, however, are everywhere. Why does the Prometheus look so high-tech, pristine, and loaded with all the toys (a point made specifically by a character) in a prequel when it all looked so industrial and provincial in the original films? Why would anyone fund a trillion-dollar expedition on a hunch? Why do the characters played by Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender look and act so similar (also pointed out by a character in the film) if one is human and the other’s a robot? Why is an automated surgical suit in the boss lady’s private quarters preset to “male?” In the end, the point of the film has nothing to do with bug hunting and everything to do progeny, and that’s where audiences lured in by the familiar “Alien sound” are going to feel left in the cold.
Speaking of Theron and Fassbender, their performances are incredible. Noomi Rapace manages to hold it together long enough to show she’s got every bit of Ripley’s grit even if she doesn’t get all the same opportunity. Unfortunately, few of the questions asked are actually answered, but to be fair, they are existential questions. The very end of the film does make much of the preceding feel more like a first part of a trilogy than it should (and will certainly provide plenty of live ammunition for those feeling tricked into seeing it), while the very, very ending almost feels like a bone thrown to those same people as some kind of compensation. Only time will tell, of course, and few R-rated sci-fi films can boast smash successes even when tossing around names like Ridley Scott and Alien. While it’s true the film is set in the Alien universe, the sad truth is that Fox probably should have advertised it more like Bladerunner since that’s the audience who will likely enjoy Prometheus the most.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)