Prometheus | Movie review
Ridley Scott’s return to the world of Alien is not a return to form.
If you’ve always wondered who or what set off that distress beacon in 1979’s Alien—the one that drew Ellen Ripley and the rest of the ill-fated Nostromo crew to the outer reaches of space—wonder no longer. Ridley Scott has returned to the franchise he started, ready to field your unanswered questions. If, however, back story and exposition are not what you’re looking for in a science-fiction thrill ride, Prometheus may leave you feeling phantom-menaced. For all its callbacks—the line-at-a-time title reveal, long walks through familiar caverns, a moving blip on a radar screen—Scott’s expensive backslide bears only a passing resemblance to the claustrophobic monster movie that sent his career into hyperdrive.
On some level, it’s admirable the director hasn’t just cloned his first big hit. Unlike last year’s The Thing, Prometheus is not a remake masquerading as a prequel. It’s a handsome, talky space opus built around the unexplored nooks and crannies of Alien’s cosmology. The title refers not just to the Greek myth, but to the primary setting: a high-tech vessel en route to the original film’s forbidden planet. It’s there that Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) hope they’ll meet their makers, the “engineers” they believe responsible for the creation of mankind. The rest of the crew—including Charlize Theron’s tough-as-nails company stooge and Idris Elba’s easygoing captain—is more skeptical.
There’s plenty to gawk at here, including some of the most convincing futuristic production design since Minority Report. Where Prometheus stumbles is in its duties as both allegory and action film. Character motivations often seem foggy and inconsistent. Michael Fassbender brings a spooky ambivalence to the plum role of resident android David, but he’s provided only hints of the perverse curiosity that made Ian Holm’s treacherous Ash such a fascinating villain. Rapace, too, is betrayed by the script, which aims to position her doctor as the default Ripley figure without allowing the character to take shape.
Prometheus boasts one spectacularly disgusting set piece, a surgical race against the clock that approximates the queasy intensity of Alien’s most famous scene. Yet this shock-buzzer moment feels forced—it’s one of several halfhearted concessions to the diehards. Scott’s biggest cheat is the way he uses lingering affection for the first movie to goose our interest in a generic and philosophically thin creation myth. The film’s message seems to be that searching for answers about origins can lead to disappointment. That’s a lesson Alien fans should keep in mind when ponying up.