So here we are, after all the hype, the leaked scripts, the rumours – is it an Alien prequel? Ridley says no, everyone else says yes – the viral clips, the teasers, the trailers, the teasers-for-trailers, the press conferences, the wild anticipation, and Prometheus turns out to be… well, just another monsters-in-space movie. That’s not the whole story, of course – as sci-fi horror movies go, this is a pretty expensive, epic, ideas-heavy example of the genre. But it’s far from the game-changer some had hoped for, and it may in fact leave some viewers entirely baffled.
If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ll know the basic plot: in the year 2089, archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) stumble across a pictogram hidden in a cave on the Isle of Skye. Matching it with etchings found across the globe, they conclude that the drawings constitute a star map. And when dying multi-billionaire (Guy Pearce) agrees to fund a mission, the two scientists head out into the cosmos aboard the starship Prometheus to find, they hope, an answer to the questions of life, the universe and everything.
What they find is, of course, far slimier and less friendly. Arriving on a distant rocky moon in the company of android David (Michael Fassbender), hard-ass corporate stooge Vickers (Charlize Theron), cigar-chomping ship’s captain Janek (Idris Elba) and sundry other scantily characterised and wholly expendable shipmates, they stumble across a giant structure buried in the soil. Could this hold the key to mankind’s origins?
There’s plenty to recommend in Prometheus: the photography is pleasingly crisp and the design is stunning, nicely redolent of Alien and its sequels. There is a small handful of truly bracing set pieces – one scene inside a medical pod is without doubt the most heart-poundingly memorable moment of the blockbuster season so far.
But the flaws are impossible to ignore. The script feels flat – a few pleasing nods to the original movies aside, the dialogue is lazy, while the plot, though crammed with striking concepts, simply fails to coalesce. After an enjoyable setup, the central act is baggy, confusing and, in places, slightly boring, while the climax has flash and fireworks but no real momentum.
There just doesn’t seem to be much logic at work here. Some events – such as one crew member going tonto on his shipmates – seem to happen because it’s expected from the genre, not because they make much sense. And fans of Alien will feel shortchanged: the script makes no real effort to pre-empt that film, and in fact is happy to ignore it altogether while at the same time eagerly exploiting its beautiful HR Giger spaceship design. The ending is left wide open for a sequel, which may close some of the bigger story holes, but there’s still a frustrating lack of care being taken here.
Perhaps more than any other film, Prometheus is reminiscent of Chris Nolan’s Inception: it’s slick, gorgeously designed and scattered with intriguing concepts. But there’s just no real power behind it. The characters are thin and emotionless, the plot twists are predictable and the entire thing seems built on ideas plucked from superior predecessors (in addition to the original Alien movies, there’s a little bit of 2001: A Space Odyssey, a touch of The Abyss and a whole lot of Star Trek). There’s no denying that Prometheus makes for a perfectly entertaining night at the movies – but we were promised so much more.