Prometheus raises a lot of questions, starting with whether or not this is really a prequel to the Alien trilogy. Let’s call it a loose prequel because there are no direct connections between this movie and the Alien movies. There are definitely a lot of echoes (prechoes?), including the self-serving super-corporation, untrustworthy androids, deadly creatures coming out of oblong pods, and the ragtag crew that tries to survive them all (Oh, and there’s grossness). However, this movie has (from the opening prologue scene) an overlay of grandiose profundity (at least it acts like it does) that tries to pose even bigger questions about the origins of humankind and the existence of a creator race. In fact, that’s what this movie is about: scientists Elizabeth Shaw (played by Noomi Rapace, speaking English this time and not sporting any dragon tattoos) and Charlie Holloway (played by Logan Marshall-Green, who you probably don’t know) lead an expedition to a faraway planet after finding evidence on Earth that it may be the home of the race that created us, the human race. Along for the ride (but not really to help) is Meredith Vickers (played by Charlize Theron), the icy-blonde corporate rep and overall mission commander; David the android (played with grown-up-Hitler-youth style creepiness and blondness by Michael Fassbender); and Captain Janek (played by Idris Elba). On the first day when they reach their target planet, they land and look around a massive, ancient temple (we know that won’t end well, don’t we?) and stumble upon evidence that something killed our would-be progenitors. What follows is a sci-fi horror film clearly in line with the other Alien movies, but making far less sense, despite the intention of bringing us universal answers.
Let’s start with David the android. Fassbender does an excellent job of acting mild and compliant, but pretty soon we realize that something’s a bit odd with ol’ Davey. He clearly knows more than the others and more than he’s letting on. Why does he have more knowledge? What does he know? What are his motives for doing some of the horrible things that he does in the movie? I don’t know if it was left intentionally vague and open-ended, but that doesn’t really get answered. Plus, apparently he can read and speak the alien language, as well as use their machines without problem. Noomi Rapace isn’t bad either as Dr. Shaw. She’s clearly the Ripley stand-in, though she’s more brainy and romantic and kicks slightly less butt (though we’re really talking “slightly” because she can be badass when she needs to get something out of her body — Oops! Have I said too much? I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not that, exactly. Let’s just say her chest is not really in danger. As the movie goes on there’s a whole lot of crazy crap happening, but peoples’ reactions don’t make sense. After Shaw goes through the aforementioned ordeal, she barely escapes with her life, but when she runs into the other crew members, all they seem to be saying is: “Hey, Liz, where’ve you been all this time?”. Similarly, and ironically, there’s a biologist on the team who actually encounters an eel-like creature within the temple caverns and crazily enough he doesn’t have any of the caution that one might expect from a biologist going to an alien world. Instead he tries to approach and cajole the thing and — well you can guess how that’ll go, right?
I really wish that the story focused more on the premise of meeting one’s maker (which was a phrase they repeated a few times — I guess for the double-meaning effect) and less on the creature-feature aspects. It would have made this movie a lot more unique. When they start to tackle the big questions, it’s done in a very cheap and heavy-handed way: someone always tries to get Dr. Shaw to disavow the cross pendant that she wears around her neck (ridiculously, I kept hearing “Where’s your Messiah now?” in my head whenever that happened), trying to suggest that her religious beliefs are made ridiculous upon finding the creator-race in the flesh. Frankly, the story-telling in this movie (as you can tell from all my comments about flaws in logic) is pretty shoddy. We don’t really understand what everyone’s doing and what their motives are (if they have any). Everyone seems to draw a lot of conclusions about this alien race based on evidence found at the first location that they’ve stopped, on the first day of their arrival. These are not even your run of the mill assumptions, these are worldview-making, doom-preventing conclusions that no scientist or rational person would make so easily. There is an entire planet left to explore, and presumably a whole race of individuals to get to know (despite the fact that they seem to be long-dead). It reminded me a bit of Star Trek and how they would end up at a new planet each episode and basically interacted with a handful of individuals who were somehow supposed to represent an entire race/culture?
On the plus side, the visuals and the design are very impressive. The planet is appropriately vast and barren. The interior chambers, with their odd giant stone heads, carried that organic feel (like were were all in the throat of some gargantuan stone beast). All the sci-fi stuff looks cool too: including the ships (boy do I miss TV shows and movies that feature spacecraft), and the spacesuit costumes, the holographic messaging, etc. It is clear that a lot of money has been spent on making everything look overwhelming and impressive. Unfortunately that’s just not enough to keep everything together. I’m not going to spoil anything, but you cannot guess how crazy things get (actually, I was reminded a bit of the plot of Danny Boyle’s space-crew movie Sunshine) which really stretched the limits of believability for me (In case you’re wondering, believability is even more important in a sci-fi than a regular movie because there are so many elements that legitimately push the envelope).
After watching this movie, then thinking about how it fits into the Alien trilogy, it actually makes for a very poor prequel. It seems a lot of sequels and prequels these days are just telling a story that has a lot of the skeleton of its more-successful counterpart, and dressing it up with other flash and bang that supposedly makes them better. The actual connection of this movie to the Alien movies is pretty far fetched and I’m hoping that no one expects that closing that loop is really why the film-makers made this film. If it is, then they’re in for a dark, moist, embryo-filled chamber of disappointment. (3.5 out of 5)