Ridley Scott, director of’ Alien and Blade Runner, returns to the genre he helped define. With PROMETHEUS, he creates a new mythology, in which a team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a mysterious journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race and to discover the intentions of an alien race who may or may not have mankind’s best interest in their plans.
Ridley Scott is a master visual stylist and his return to science fiction is something to be celebrated, but his triumphant return is marred by a script full of plot-holes and deliberately unanswered questions and a movie whose entire running time seems to be devoted solely to achieve a sequel. Considering that one of the writers of the film, Damon Lindelof, is one of the creators of “Lost” perhaps that deliberate ambiguity should be expected, but what may work for a television show doesn’t really work for a single movie that can’t spend multiple seasons to explain its mythology and mysteries. Prometheus is a visual wonder to be sure, but it’s so overloaded with big ideas that go nowhere that it prevents Scott from achieving another futuristic masterpiece.
The movie opens with the first of many unexplained set-pieces, when a humanoid alien drinks some dark liquid on the Earth which disintegrates his body which breaks down and mixes his genomes with the water which apparently seeds the Earth with the building blocks of life. No further explanation is given as we jump ahead to the year 2089 where a team of archaeologists have discovered a star map amidst some pictures in a cave. The team leaders, a couple named Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) have discovered similar drawings in other parts of the world which proves that unconnected ancient cultures all shared one thing in common – the star maps. Convinced that the maps symbolize an invitation, Shaw and Holloway team up with Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) who is the founder of the Weyland Corporation to travel about the scientific vessel Prometheus to follow the map to LV-223 to make contact.
The ship’s caretaker during the long trip is David (Michael Fassbender) who watches movies and learns languages during the long time while the crew is in hypersleep. David is a robot that looks human and acts human perhaps more so than was intended. David has developed a healthy ego and his increased knowledge has given him a superior attitude towards other beings that he considers inferior. Once the ship arrives at LV-223, David awakens the crew along with the Weyland Corporation’s point person Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). Being a movie that requires cannon fodder (or red-shirts if you will), the crew and scientists that were chosen for the trip are pretty much the most unsuitable lot that could have been picked. Every single person with the exception of the Captain Janek (Idris Elba) is terrible at their job, including Shaw and especially Holloway whose arrogance and ignorance on the unknown planet puts them all in jeopardy.
When they land on the planet, Vickers orders them to avoid contact with the alien race that’s been dubbed “the engineers.” The landing team’s sole mission is to explore a nearby alien structure and to keep Vickers informed of their progress. The team discovers a multitude of long thin tube-like containers that contain so black goo, a giant statue of a humanoid head, and the headless corpse of a giant alien that they presume to be an engineer. Lucky for them, discovering the engineer’s bodies triggers a handy flashback hologram recreation of how they died (another thing left unexplained). With a storm about to hit their location, the team races back to Prometheus, but not before David secretly takes some of the black goo stuff with him and two red-shirts are left behind. From this point on, you probably have a good idea of what happens as all hell breaks loose. There’s infection, a lot of people are killed, and a lot of them make some really bad choices. There’s also some plot twists that are supposed to be surprising but end up feeling weak and desperate.
If you hated “Lost”, then you will most likely not be happy with Prometheus since it has the same maddening ambiguity and unanswered questions. Add in the many plot-holes and the questionable decisions made by characters and it just sinks what should have been a fantastic film. I was very excited to see Ridley Scott return to the genre that he helped define, not to mention the prospect of him doing it in the Alien universe. You may wonder why I rated the film is rated as high as I did considering my many issues with it, but the film’s visual wonder and Scott’s unique touch really are amazing to see. If the script had been better then this could have been another masterpiece since Scott is still the master of creating believable and wondrous spectacles. Whether it’s a futuristic Los Angeles or a distant unexplored planet of alien origin, Scott delivers the mystery and scale like few others. It also doesn’t help that the idea that aliens are responsible for mankind has also been done many times before which grounds Scott’s efforts.
Another disappointment for me was the film’s cast for the most part. While Rapace does a fine enough job, she doesn’t hold a candle to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. who was a far more interesting character. Fassbender does the best work in the film as the robot David who has journeyed with humans to search for their creators while ironically he finds his own creators to be lacking. His David is actually more human-like than his successors Ash and Bishop. Elba’s talents are wasted as the ship’s captain but he does bring some humor and some basic humanity to an otherwise sterile proceeding. Theron is also misused since she can play the ice queen role in her sleep now and has the talent to do much more than she was given here. The rest of the cast perform their parts as written and my problem is with how they were written and not the actors. In Alien, you cared about the characters but in this one, they are so unlikable and two dimensional that you aren’t really that invested in their fates and a couple of them act so stupidly that they deserve their outcome.
Prometheus has a lot of great visual effects and a lot of nice nods to the Alien franchise and it has a lot of big ideas to present. Normally, something that ambitious is a good thing, but in this case it backfires when all of the big questions that are asked aren’t answered. For a movie that started as a quest to discover our creators, by the end of the movie all we are left with is more questions than when it started and with no answers forthcoming. If we want any answers, we will have to wait for the sequel that has to be greenlit just to justify this first installment. This may mark the first time a sequel came about from withholding its favors and playing hard to get. Prometheus doesn’t just want your money as a one time thing; it wants your continued attention and capital if you want to get to second base. As it is, if there is no sequel, we’ve invested our time and money in Prometheus and all we have to show for it is an empty promise of a future reward.