Film Review: Prometheus
Okay, it very well may be.
But whatever ambiguities persist in the film’s connection to Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 classic, one thing is very certain; Prometheus is big, bold and brave cinema.
Starting off at what is perceived to be the “dawn of man”, a simple but very effective hook, with a more than a little mythological angle, leads into a signature Scott film. The story (at least for the first two acts) is roughly exposed in the trailer above, but the plot and the characters only begin to unveil themselves when seeing the film itself. Scott’s strength has always been developing characters, and even in his most action-heavy pieces (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down) the real staple of their quality is the character gallery put on display there.
Right in the first scene aboard the Prometheus we are treated to a lone soul, wandering the corridors of a deep-space vessel, where everyone else is in hypersleep. It has engrossed itself in one of the most basic of human emotions: curiosity. It watches films, learns languages and even spies on the sleepers’ dreams. What makes this sequence even more intriguing is that this person isn’t human at all. It is the resident android, David, whom Michael Fassbender portrays with an eerie precision.
From this moment on, Prometheus revolves around him. Well, him and Noomi Rapace. Rapace, who has already shown considerable gusto in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, goes all out as zealous scientist Elizabeth Shaw, who along with Logan Marshall Green’s Holloway has convinced the Weyland corporation to fund an interstellar journey to potentially make a history-altering discovery.
As has been confusingly stated before, Prometheus has strong ties with Alien, ties which are confirmed very early on. Which means Rapace has some very big shoes to fill. Sigourney Weaver’s, to be exact. And boy, does she fill them. Shaw is a tricky character to portray, a scientist, an intellectual, if a bit on the insistent side. She doesn’t magically transform into an action hero, like way too many poorly written female characters in cinema, but is confronted with one desperate situation after another, leading to a highly emotional, highly violent and deeply engrossing escalation, climax and conclusion. Her motivations are always clear, her choices brutally cruel and her emotions highly relatable, despite the fantastical concept. And Rapace’s handling is nothing short of stunning.
In short, Prometheus is Fassbender and Rapace’s calling card to superstardom.
It wouldn’t be so emphatic, though, if it wasn’t for the rest of the cast. Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Sean Harris, Marshall Green, Rafe Spall and Guy Pearce are all tuned into their characters, some of whom share certain sensibilities with characters from Alien, while others bring new and surprising elements to the table. Theron as Vickers is especially intriguing, playing perhaps the most layered “company person” seen thus far in the “Alien Universe” films. She imbues her with both cold nerves and a hot head, and she commands two of the most emotionally weighted scenes in the whole film.
The script, in turn, services the characters, rather than the other way around. Fortunately. It offers everything a grand-scale epic could hope for. Massive set-pieces, well written conversations, a gradual large-scale revelation which never lumbers in its unveiling, and a healthy dollop of family drama. The script is respectful of its original source while never becoming derivative, and by the final frame there is a strong sense of an expansive story that could be continued into a film series potentially just as memorable as the Alien franchise, such is the scale of the world portrayed. The most important element of the script, though, is one shared by all the major characters and has already been mentioned.
It is both the proponent of why the mission was undertaken as well as the device of its collapse, brought about by a surprising agent (in fact, there are many brilliantly placed twists on expected plot conventions in the film). Director Scott has emphasized his own curiosity in promotional material for the film, asking inquisitive questions about humanity’s origins, and this curiosity permeates throughout the entire film, right to the very last frame, tying together a story of immense scale, hinting at implications reaching far beyond this film alone, all brought on by this simple, human emotion. Scott may have sacrificed a few jump-scares or claustrophobic chases along the way, but what remains is a bolder, stronger piece of art.
Not that the action is lacking. Far from it. While Scott has always been a strong character director, his action execution has been inconsistent. Here, however, he is right at the peak of his powers, obviously energized by his return to science fiction. The violence is both bloody and brutal as well as completely necessary for the development of the characters, especially Shaw and Vickers, who each have a crucial moment of development through the experience and execution of horrific violence.
As had already been deducted by the promo material, the film is visually magnificent. The scale is exponentially bigger than in Alien and strengthens the underlying theme of taking a directly connected story in a different direction than the original franchise. Everything about the Prometheus conveys brilliance, from the scouting vehicles and scanning drones to David’s yellow-helmeted research suit.
This is an immersive world of ingenious technology and discovery, made that much more engrossing by the story and characters. On its own scenes like the alien ship’s crash (seen in the trailer) is a magnificent spectacle, but what keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat are the emotions and motivations that lead to them and what they entail for the characters, catapulting the action from good to flat-out breathtaking. The effects are simply flawless and the 3D feels natural to the world.
And yes, the creatures (only glimpsed in the trailer), both the much-discussed Space Jockeys as well as some other surprises, manage to both evoke the viewer’s intrigue and fear, often at the same time. You may be coiling away in horror, but you still can’t look away.
Finally, the music by Marc Streitenfeld, a regular Scott collaborator since 2006, is a perfect complement to the visuals and narrative, highlighted by a theme that’s repeated throughout the film and becomes an integral part of the dramatic narrative, not unlike the soundtrack for Close Encounters, in fact.
Final Verdict: Prometheus is a visually mesmerizing piece of bold science fiction, a philosophical epic as much as an action thriller. Go in expecting all-out action from the start and you’re missing the point. Led by Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace’s magnificent, award-worthy performances, the spectacular cast drives a daring script home in style. The build-up gradually builds up to a spellbinding finale, and the epic conclusion and shocking final frames leave you aching for more, in the best way imaginable. Ridley Scott has now finally made his third sci-fi classic.