Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, and Charlize Theron
MPAA: R - For Sci-Fi Violence Including Some Intense Images, and Brief Language]
[Warning: While this review contains no spoilers for the film itself, there are a few things I mention that might hint at some things that may be best left unread if you're planing on seeing this film with as little spoiled as possible. You've been warned.]
So, I might as well skip to the big question on everyone's mind: Is Prometheus really a prequel to the seminal horror film of 1979 Alien? Well...uh, kinda, I guess. It's hard to explain. While it was originally intended to be a prequel to the sci-fi horror classic, the project that eventually became known as Prometheus changed into its own separate entity and started looking at much larger ambitions in its horizons. The problem, of course, was that Scott was still interested in the whole "It's an Alien prequel!" hook to begin with, so it started leading to some confusion on whether or not the film really was a prequel or an entirely original creation. After finally seeing it, however, I can safely say that the answer is irrelevant because it works on both accounts. Prometheus is equal parts an intelligent, thought-provoking sci-fi film; a thrilling action-horror hybrid filled to the brim with suspense and intense moments; and a clever nod to fans of the original Alien while still being accessible for people who have never even seen a xenomorph.
So here's what's happening: A pair of archaeologists in the year 2089 discover a series of artifacts all linked by a strikingly similar image of a series of stars or planets. Using their high-tech tools to pinpoint if there's a match somewhere in our galaxy, they discover a planet that can possibly link to the origins of mankind itself; hinting that perhaps if there is a god that brought life to our planet, it certainly didn't come from "our planet" if you see what I mean. So they go on an expedition to an alien world that literally has them, in a way, looking for God.
Now, the idea of "Looking for God in Space" is an idea that's been used before (As seen in Sunshine, 2001: A Space Odyssey, that one awful Star Trek movie that William Shatner directed) but here it is used in a very interesting manner. For one, it implies that if God really is in the unknown realms of our universe, He's kind of an asshole. Another, it hints at a lot of other eerie things about mankind's creation that I will not spoil but still offer striking philosophical debate. So regardless of whether it's a new idea or not, it's one filled with intelligence and deep ambition, and the movie actually manages to engage your intellect most of the time.
Things quickly turn to shit for the crew, however, when we see that parasitic extra-terrestrial organisms (Remind you guys of anything, hmmmm?) inhabit the planet and are picking apart the crew one by one. And if that wasn't enough, it turns out that the super rich organization that hired the crew has a secret agenda (Sound familiar, hmmmmm?) plus there's an android that has something sinister lurking in his wiring (Ringing any bells, hmmmm?). While the movie definitely echoes the original Alien film a lot, there's something about it that keeps it from feeling derivative or a knockoff of Alien. I don't know how exactly to describe it, perhaps it was just the philosophical material that elevated it, or the distinct visual style, but I still found myself being surprised by a lot of what Prometheus had to offer, even when it was deliberately saying "Hey! Remember that one movie you love?! It may seem like I'm ripping off of it, but I swear I have totally good reason for doing so!"
To me, the main reason why Prometheus works as well as it does is easily Ridley Scott's direction. Ridley Scott has a difficult filmography. He's made some of the most classic films known to man (Alien, Blade Runner) and he's made a few other very solid films along the way (Black Hawk Down, American Gangster), but more than all that combined, he's made a staggering amount of duds (Robin Hood, Body of Lies, Gladiator, etc.). You never know what kind of Ridley you're going to get, but one thing I've always thought was that whenever Ridley did sci-fi, it led to masterful results (Even though he's only done two sci-fi films, those two films are astounding classics that will stand the test of time).
While Prometheus isn't quite up to the level that Alien is on, it's probably the best example of Scott's talent in what feels like decades. Not only is this one of the most gorgeously photographed mainstream event films I've ever seen, with a beautifully otherworldly atmosphere that is equal parts lovely and disquieting; Scott also really nails the dread with almost nothing. There's a true sense of unease and menace in the earlier scenes. And when it ratchets up in suspense, the movie never really lets up after that. Even the quiet scenes after the first monster attack give unease to the viewer. I really don't get why Scott doesn't make more horror movies, because he's so damn good at it when he does.
More like Michael Fappbender <3.
And then you have the CG effects, which are mind-blowingly awesome. Usually, the problem with using CG is that no matter how may pixels it has, it still looks "CG" and totally unreal. A movie like Green Lantern or X-Men: First Class can have million of dollars on its budget and still look like a cheap piece of ass. Very few films are able to make the CG feel seamless with the live-action (James Cameron's Avatar is masterful at this, even though it isn't a very good movie). Prometheus totally gets this. The CG used in this film is unobtrusive and enhances the world the characters inhabit, rather than distracts the viewer. It is little touches such as that that makes the film's world even more immersive.
On top of all that, the cast is terrific. Some characters aren't really given much to do, but they're all played by a smorgasbord of great actors. The main standouts are Noomi Rapace, who perfectly embodies the strong yet vulnerable heroine of Dr. Shaw without aping Sigourney Weaver's Ripley; Charlize Theron as the captain of the expedition who is playing a deliciously despicable villain-ish character; but the biggest standout of them all is easily my mancrush Michael "The Fass" Fassbender as the fastidious android with an ambiguous agenda. Playing a robot character is much tougher than it initially seems to be. While people joke that all it takes is remaining as still and emotionless as humanly possible, there are a lot of subtleties that go into such a character that I can't really explain but you just "feel" when you're watching it. Michael Fassbender perfectly captures those subtleties, echoing hints of David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth and Peter O'Toole's T.E. Lawrence portrayal in Lawrence of Arabia, but still distinct enough to be enjoyed on its own and has an eerie quality of menace and ambiguity. You never know what he's going to do next; only what he's capable of and how that could turn ugly if used in the wrong manner.
If there are any flaws in the film, they're all script level. Nothing major, like a lot of other critics seem to be complaining about; but they're definitely noticeable. The script isn't all bad. There are some moments of sheer brilliance, especially the opening scene and how it adheres to the golden rule of "show and don't tell". But of course, the flaws are there, and while the movie really sucks you in, they are still rather distracting. For starters, there are a few scenes here and there where the characters behave rather stupidly. I won't spoil how, but let's just say that you should never treat creepy tentacle monsters like cute little puppies unless you're delusional. And while Noomi Rapace is great in this film, she isn't given anything to do with her romantic love-interest, which includes some boring dialogue that's meant to make their relationship feel meaningful but instead comes across as hollow.
Also, while there are some fascinating and intelligent ideas all throughout the movie's thematic tissue, it doesn't go deep enough into them. It hints at them a lot, and it's enough to make it smarter than the average blockbuster and stir post-movie debate, but a lot of viewers I've read all throughout the internet were disappointed that while the themes are deep the plot itself is rather thin. And it is. Without spoiling anything, there's a moment when Noomi Rapace asks the question "Why? Why were we created, and why are we about to get destroyed?" and rather than going balls deep into philosophical territory, it instead spirals into an action scene that references the original Alien (Albeit, a badass action scene that references Alien in a very clever way). This doesn't really make the movie "dumber", but it is a missed opportunity, considering the potential for more substance.
All that being said though, I can overlook a movie's flaws if I'm swept up in the experience, and Prometheus really is an experience. Visually, viscerally, and intellectually.
Final Verdict: Prometheus is more compelling and intelligent than almost any summer blockbuster in a long time. No amount of minor script problems can detract from what is a stunning experience. The grand visuals and great performances alone are enough to recommend it, but it also works as an edge-of-your-seat thriller filled with spectacularly intense set-pieces that will leave your jaw on the floor. The startlingly philosophical undercurrent is icing on the cake, even if its potential isn't fully realized. Regardless of your opinion, it will leave you with much discussion after the viewing, and few movies, let alone mainstream event films, are capable of that.
That is all. If you liked this review and would like to read more, you can do so by reading more from this blog as well as following me on the Twitter-machine @Enigma6667 to hear more of my general ramblings on film, video games, and other such things. By following me, you not only get an endless stream of updates on what's going on with my articles, you get to stroke my massive ego in the process. Do at your own risk.
See ya next time. Now if you'll excuse me, I've gotta check the pregnancy test results. Yes, I'm a man. Yes, I'm worried. No, it's not what you think it is. Happy face-hugging, everybody!