Beginning with the central question of “Where do we come from?” and ending with no certain answers, Prometheus is director Ridley Scott’s long-awaited return the science fiction genre. Yes, for those of you who followed its production, you’ll know that it’s slightly more than just another science fiction film, although the degree to which it has been hyped up as a prequel to one of Scott’s earlier films has been blown out of proportion.
The film begins, like many greats, with a discovery. Inside of a cave, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) finds a painting, one that has a direct connection to ones found in other areas of the world, by societies centuries apart who had no communication with each other. There are symbols that appear in all of the paintings, and that leads Shaw and her crew — including her lover, Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) — to a far corner of outer space, which contains one livable planet. The idea, they believe, is that our creators, the “Engineers,” live on this planet, and they’re going to attempt to make contact with them.
We’re in the future, of course, so this type of mission is possible. One trillion dollars were spent by the Weyland Corporation to finance the trip, which allows Elizabeth, Charlie, an android named David (Michael Fassbender), an employee of Weyland, Ms. Vickers (Charlize Theron), the ship’s captain (Idris Elba), and a bunch of cannon fodder to travel an incredible distance from Earth in hopes that they’ll be able to discover from where humans originate, and almost as importantly, why we were made.
Upon arriving here, things don’t go as planned. I don’t wish to spoil much of the film, but Prometheus takes an approach more on the lines of a horror movie. There are a lot of tense moments, most of the film takes place in the darkness, unknown elements get involved, and the whole production is very creepy. There aren’t a lot of jump scenes, but the entire atmosphere is of a scary nature. You’re always on-edge when watching this movie, and maintaining that throughout is very difficult.
You’ll be impressed with the look of the film. Ridley Scott’s movies always look fantastic, and Prometheus is no exception. This is one of the better looking science fiction movies ever, even more so than Scott’s earlier efforts in the genre. The visual effects are gorgeous, the space ships look incredible, and any alien life they find are interesting to observe. This isn’t a movie that looks like most other pictures out there, and you’ll be able to appreciate its visual aesthetic as it runs.
What you might either appreciate or find frustrating is the way that Prometheus brings up some tough questions but doesn’t necessarily provide all of the answers. Some are given, I think, but there’s a lot of ambiguity to the proceedings. That could easily upset a lot of the audience, as not providing answers makes it feel somewhat incomplete, but I think it was by design. Exploring a concept is not the same thing as completely dissecting it. Prometheus is an exploratory vessel, one which allows you to draw your own conclusions.
There are some problems with Prometheus. Some of the decisions that the crew makes are questionable at best. It takes you out of the moment when you can’t believe some of the choices made over the course of the film. Most of them can be chalked up to the characters being human, and therefore being prone to error, but there are at least a couple that might make you do a double take.
Some of the characters are also very shallow. Of the cast, only Elizabeth and David feel truly developed; everyone else is there to be killed. Yes, Ms. Vickers might have a hidden agenda — as does David — but that’s not really depth to the character. You can tell from the midway point pretty much exactly who is going to die and who will make it through to the end, but because the film around the characters is so good, this doesn’t matter a whole lot. You, as a viewer, are scared and effectively creeped out, meaning the characters are here to forward the narrative and experience the horror along with you.
Even if the characters aren’t that strong, the acting consistently is. The standout is Michael Fassbender as the android, giving his character a twitch of emotion that seems to be hinting at something more — even though that’s another one of those “unexplored” areas. Noomi Rapace is a good lead, even though her accent — which was supposed to be English, despite Rapace being Swedish — jumped around quiet a bit. Rounding out the cast are Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and an unrecognizable Guy Pearce.
I don’t think Prometheus is perfect, or for everyone, but for my money it’s a very solid, intense sci-fi/horror hybrid that is very tense throughout, while also posing a bunch of interesting questions. It doesn’t answer many of these, but that’s sometimes okay. Its strength does not lie in its characters, however, as only two of them felt like anything other than target practice. Prometheus is a very enjoyable film, and as long as you don’t over-think its characters or their decisions, you’ll have a good time with it.