Do not believe anything Ridley Scott has told you. Prometheus is a prequel to the pre-existing Alien film series. The corporate backers are one half of that template for evil sci-fi corporations, Weyland-Yutani, and a keen eye will catch details for the events to come within the Alien mythos. Except for the Alien vs. Predator movies. It’s wise to just not talk about those in the slightest, really. Pretend they don’t exist, and you’ll just feel happier overall. Taken purely as a piece of Alien fanservice, Prometheus does not disappoint in the slightest.
As a movie, though, Prometheus disappoints thanks to an unfinished-feeling third act that helps to unravel the massive amount of goodwill Scott and company built up with a commanding first ninety minutes. There’s pieces of a truly brilliant, envelope-pushing movie here bogged down with last-minute plot holes and action for the sake of action.
Director: Ridley Scott
Release Date: June 8th, 2012
Following a series of archaeological discoveries hinting at the possibility of early humans interacting with extraterrestrial visitors, Weyland Industries sends the exploration vessel Prometheus to investigate a distant world. You’ll find your usual motley crew of science/corporate characters here, the idealistic scientists (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green), the badass, sardonic pilot (Idris “I steal every scene I’m in” Elba), the corporate ice queen (Charlize Theron), and, of course, David, the friendly android linguist (Michael Fassbender). You’ve seen enough of the trailers/have enough movie-going sense to know where this is going. The team arrives on the planet, make incredible discoveries, and find it all going wrong in horrifying ways. The corporate stooges have a shadow-y agenda, and some people are going to die because of it. Overall, Prometheus is reasonably predictable, plot-wise. Fortunately, the various twists and turns are handled competently, until that onerous third act I mentioned. But we’ll get to that.
There’s barely a weak link, in terms of performances. We’ve all come to expect great things from actors like Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace, and they certainly don’t disappoint. Rapace brings a Ripley-esque strength to the role of Dr. Elizabeth Swann, a woman in the midst of a severe crisis of faith. She’s humble with her ideology, and it’s truly heart-wrenching to see her high-minded ideals be torn down as she discovers more and more of what lies on this ancient planet. Fassbender, as we’ve come to expect at this point, is a revelation as David, the world’s most advanced artificial life form. He toes a wonderful line between uncanny valley-emotionlessness and muted, HAL-9000 malice. He seems to have open disdain for these humans, attempting to reach their potential creators while ignoring the miracle of the creation of life that he himself represents. It’s a nuanced, exciting performance and makes for some of the highlights of the film. Even the cast of side characters, the other scientists on the mission, actually have characters, albeit minor or two-dimensional ones. Compare that to Alien, where basically everyone but Ashe and Ripley could have traded names every other scene, and I wouldn’t have noticed.
I cannot sing enough praise for how enjoyable the first two-thirds of the movie is. As mentioned, it’s predictable stuff, and you’re not going to be shocked (SHOCKED I say!) by any of the revelations made in the plot. That said, there’s some truly awesome ideas being raised in this part of the film. This is stuff I never expected to see in a mainstream, blockbuster summer release. The premise alone, a group of explorers going into space to literally meet their makers is one thing, but when you throw David the android, things get turned on their heads. He’s a creature riding along with people that, for symbolic purposes, are his maker, who in turn are going to meet their maker. What if, the movie asks, you got a chance to meet God, only to find out that he made you, doesn’t care about you, and, in fact, hates you for no reason? There’s snatches of very heady, exciting stuff going on here.
Unfortunately, it’s squandered. The final third of the film, the all important climax, feels unfinished. There’s some cool action and a tense bit of self-surgery, but all the big ideas the film begins to delve into just vanish for the sake of the Action Finish. I’m fine with the tide turning towards the action-y, as there’s obviously a lot of potential for fighting some assorted creatures (none of the spiky tailed and extra mouthed variety), but the climax of a film like this has to up the stakes in terms of action and payoff on the thematic elements. What happens here feels more like the last third of the film was from a different draft than the rest, something far dumber than what came before. It sours the rest of the film just by existing, and to top it all off, it leads into an open-ended non-ending in an attempt to set up a franchise. If I wasn’t in a crowded theater full of my peers, I would have shouted, “Oh, FUCK that!”
See, here’s the key to an open-ended ending. You do it in such a way that isn’t blatantly setting yourself up for a sequel. Look at Alien, for God’s sake, the very source of this film. The ending is pretty open to other possibilities, but there’s nevertheless a strong sense of finality. Ripley could end up anywhere after the credits roll. Floating through space forever, crashing back onto LV-426 and having to fight more xenomorphs, or anything else imaginable. At the same time, though, it’s a definite ending. Prometheus, however, has the open-ended part without the actual “ending” part. It might as well have ended with an old-timey announcer proclaiming, “What adventure will Our Heroes find on [SPOILER REDACTED]? Tune in in three years for Prometheus 2: Fire From the Gods Harder!” The ending doesn’t ruin the movie the way High Tension‘s did, but it definitely wasn’t helping.
“Missed opportunity” is the best way to describe Prometheus, ultimately. There was so much potential, and it comes tantalizingly close to realizing it. What we got is still an enjoyable movie, and certainly features some smarter sci-fi than you’re going to get in The Avengers, but this isn’t the masterpiece andsecond coming of the Blade Runner and original Alien-level talent Ridley Scott used to be.
Matthew Razak – Prometheus is a film that gets better with age. It’s been over a week since I’ve seen it now and every time I come back to thinking about it I realize how much more I enjoyed it. Far closer to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in tone and themes than his original Alien, the film is more about ideas than it is about action and scares. This is not Alien, and anyone going in expecting something like any of the films from that franchise are going to be sorely disappointed. While the new focus on thought, creation, religion and questions about life makes the film incredibly interesting to think about it also leads to some issues with plotting and logic, especially when connected to the previous films. There’s a lot of vagueness going on in the movie that feels more like laziness than cleverness. Still, it’s that vagueness that raises the many questions that make the film worth thinking about. 81 – Great
Maxwell Roahrig – I’m just going to get this out of the way. Prometheus is one of the most beautifully designed science-fiction movies ever made. From the art direction, to the breathtaking digital cinematography, Prometheus has a lot going for it. But I use the word “designed” for a reason. The film, while beautiful in its art and ideas, falls flat on its face when it comes to plot. Y’know, the thing that a movie relies on. While the first two-thirds of the movie were setting up something awe-inspiring and beautiful (yet horrific), the last act of the movie comes out of nowhere. Cliched tropes of sci-fi films and videogames come to the forefront of the movie, and the ending is so unnecessary, I have to wonder if Ridley and co. really wanted it that way, or if studio intervention was at play. Even with some serious third act issues, Prometheus is hard to beat, and made me a believer in digital cinematography. 80 – Great