Does Ridley Scott Still Have It? Scott is still capable of rendering scenes of visual magnificence and making future tech palpable to modern audiences. Unfortunately, this time he's working with a script by the guy who created Lost.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Two Marvin the Paranoid Androids out of five.
Tagline: "The search for our beginning could lead to our end."
Better Tagline: "We'd prefer it if you said, 'The glass is half full.'"
Brief Plot Synopsis: Scientific team travels to distant moon searching for origins of life, dies noisily.
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Married archaeologists Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and Shaw (Noomi Rapace) have discovered identical ancient star maps represented in several far-flung and unconnected ancient civilizations. After obtaining funding from the hella old Peter Weyland (an unrecognizable Guy Pearce), the two travel aboard the scientific exploratory vessel Prometheus in stasis to LV-223, supervised by the chilly Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and captained by the no-nonsense Janek (Idris Elba). Upon arrival, they're told they're to seek out the Engineers, who left the maps and -- oh, yeah -- may be responsible for human existence.
"Critical" Analysis: Christ, this movie.
Hey, I just made a pun. Because not only does Prometheus (unsuccessfully) attempt to wrestle with questions of faith and creation, but we're also informed in a throwaway fashion that the Engineers grew disillusioned with humanity roughly 2,000 years ago. And you know what else happened 2,000 years ago? That's right, Ernest Borgnine was born.
For the first hour or so of Prometheus, you can fool yourself into thinking you're in for something special. I don't think I've seen a movie this year as gorgeously shot, and the promise of getting a glimpse at the alien intelligence responsible for our very existence is a tantalizing prospect. It's just too bad the wheels come off so dramatically in the second act.
I'm a huge fan of the original Alien, which I regard as one of the top five horror movies ever made. This has obviously colored my perceptions, mostly because of all of Scott's mealy-mouthing on the subject of Prometheus's connection to that film; it started as a sequel, then a prequel (with a script by Jon Spaihts), then a sort of "associated film," taking place in the same universe but using Alien as a "jumping off point" for a "new mythology."
We can accept the director's wish to explore new territory in his universe while still calling bullshit on everything he says. If it's not a "direct" prequel, as Scott and new screenwriter Damon Lindelof have repeatedly claimed, then why create the setting of the derelict ship at all? Will the as-yet-unmade sequel find us traversing the galaxy, knocking down other Engineer ships in order to better explain the Space Jockey? Seriously? Why create such an obvious link to the 1979 movie (SPOILER: a proto-xenomorph shows up at the end) if you're going to fumble the most iconic shot of the original (next to Kane's...indigestion)? When Dallas and the rest of the scout party found the Space Jockey in Alien, it was a scene of visual majesty and tense foreboding. Prometheus pisses all over it by constructing the ending in such a way as to make that central scene impossible.
It's as if Scott devoted so much energy to the look of the film he completely ignored internal consistency and character motivation (like that's never happened before). I'm willing to shrug off certain things, like the fact David (a magnificent Michael Fassbender) is perfectly out in the open as an "artificial person" (as Bishop might say), or that androids are even that advanced -- recall Ash was an earlier, "twitchy" model in Alien, a film that takes place some 40 years after Prometheus. I'll even allow that Lindelof threw a lot of stuff into the mix in order to run with certain threads later on (read any interview with him and he talks about expanding these things in possible sequels), because he did that for six years in Lost. It's science fiction, in an alternative universe (it has to be, if we're supposedly going to have interstellar space flight capabilities in 70 years), so I can wave off questions about alien technology and physical properties on other planets.
At the same time -- and I feel like I ask this a hundred times a year -- what's the point? If Prometheus isn't a prequel to Alien, then why bring facehuggers and chest-bursting into the mix? If the mutations we see in the film are the ancestors of the original film's xenomorphs, why was there a depiction of a full-on alien queen inside the Engineers' ship?
But again, you can ignore most of that (casual and non-fans of the original probably won't remember enough to be annoyed), and I was fully prepared to let a lot of that slide if the end result was in any way compelling or thought-provoking, and it's not. The characters, educated explorers all, enter an ancient structure and immediately behave less like doctorate holders and more like Cub Scouts in a Shriner haunted house. Lindelof thinks he's asking Big Questions about faith and man's place in the universe, when all he and Scott have really done is create a big-budget, visually arresting slasher flick in space. The ambiguous prequel/not prequel bullshit is just a way to disguise the fact that he either has no idea what he's doing, or no intention of answering the questions he's posed.
The good? Fassbender is fasstastic, Rapace -- while no Ripley -- is plenty resourceful (her MediPod scene rivals Kane's "birth" in the body horror category) and Elba isn't entirely wasted. What's more frustrating is the feeling, at movie's end, that everything was deliberately left unsolved solely to keep you interested for another movie (or two). If that's the case, the joke's on Scott and Lindelof, because I have no interest in following this particular story any further.