Prometheus is director Ridley Scott's return to science fiction, and co-writer Damon Lindelof's return to the kind of big, heady themes he explored for six seasons of his landmark TV show Lost. It's a natural pairing, and one that imbues Prometheus with Scott's stunning visuals and Lindelof's ideas that are even more interesting to discuss after the credits roll-- the innate desire to surpass our parents, say, or the inability to find answers to life's most nagging and important questions. But it also makes for an ultimately disappointing film, as the tense scares and thinly-sketched characters reminiscent of Alien give way to a baffling finale, offering no resolution about either its Big Questions or the few characters we've come to care about. It's aiming to be both an epic space thriller and a spiritual treatise, and watching it almost accomplish both makes it all the more frustrating.
What's good about Prometheus, though, is good enough to be worth seeing. The 3D is among the best I've seen, first showing off with a crisp early sequence of DNA replicating itself, and ending with the kind of audience shock that 3D was made for. And Michael Fassbender's performance as the android David, full of crisp movements and deliberately blank facial expressions, is utterly engrossing; as other characters about the Prometheus ship gradually become inconsistent or cannon fodder, David remains the enigmatic life force of the film. Noomi Rapace, as the scientist Elizabeth Shaw, is also quite good-- along with her boyfriend and partner (Logan Marshall Green) she's discovered the series of ancient cave drawings that point the Prometheus to a far-off galaxy, where she fervently believes they will meet the Engineers responsible for human life, a.k.a. God.
We see in the film's opening scene that she is right-- an alien did visit earth to create life-- but Shaw is faced with skeptics anyway, from the anonymous roughnecks helping pilot the Prometheus to Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), a no-nonsense corporate type who hates everyone on board for whatever reason. Once the Prometheus arrives on the distant planet the action remains admirably concise, as the explorers visit the underground caves that hold clues to alien life and return to the ship; there's a marvelous building dread as we anticipate the chaos we know is coming. Once disaster arrives, though, the narrative starts falling apart-- characters make choices that make no sense, characters express knowledge they have no way of knowing, and one key character emerges in the third act in a reveal that only muddles the already scattered narrative. Shaw's shattered faith in her Engineers, and David's mysterious role in the on-board destruction, remain intriguing threads throughout the well-orchestrated action beats, but so much else is lost in the shuffle it's hard to engage on any level beyond being dazzled by the titanic special effects.
As a big-budget, wide-ranging ensemble action film, Prometheus is so very different from Alien that it's not really worth comparing the films, but it's hard not to miss how concise Alien was, picking off its characters on by one, slowly teasing out one horrible monster, and leaving us just a couple of existential questions-- not dozens-- to wrestle with in the end. It's clear that Prometheus never intended to concretely answer many of the big notions it brings up, but much like he did for the end of Lost, Lindelof settles on feeble spiritual ideas as his story's resolution, without the audience's attachment to the characters this time to bolster them. The visuals and scope of Prometheus are captivating, but the story drops constant hints at something bigger and more complete, then throws up its hands and follows through on none of it in the end. It's very fun to walk out of the movie discussing all the ideas it brings to mind, but it would be even more fun to have a movie that could actually capitalize on them.
For our To 3D or not to 3D guide to Prometheus, go Here.