Films don’t get more polarizing than Prometheus. It was viewed as a return to sci-fi form for Ridley Scott before it was even released and the hype train was running full steam ahead as it approached its summer release date in 2012. As the film neared its release date it became more clear to general moviegoers that Prometheus existed in the same universe as the Alien franchise as a prequel of sorts and this only made fans anticipate the film even more.
The feelings of the fans were felt pretty early after the film’s opening weekend. Despite a strong $51.05 million start, the film suffered from steep declines in the following weeks and finished with $126.4 million on a reported $120-130 million budget. The worldwide total of $403.4 million made this one a hit but it was clear that everyone didn’t like what they saw and as the film approaches its 5th anniversary, it’s still a bone of contention between those who love it and those who hate it.
I fall into the former category. Having not seen Alien: Covenant (Friday can’t come fast enough) I can honestly say this is the best film in the Alien universe since Aliens. It’s not a disjointed mess like the third film and isn’t laughably absurd like the fourth entry. It’s a very strong sci-fi film from a visual standpoint that sets up its own brand of mysteries and questions. It’s not an overly exciting movie but it’s always intriguing and it makes you want to learn more. That being said, it is a film that wants its cake and eats it too. It wants to build its own mythology and stand on its own while making not so subtle references to the films it’s connected to. I can see why this would upset fans because as it stands on its own, it’s just fine but as a film in the Alien series it doesn’t measure up 100% of the time.
The majority of the movie takes place during the final weeks of the year 2093. The 17-man crew of the science vessel Prometheus is awakened from hypersleep when the ship approaches their destination – a desolate planet orbiting a distant sun-like star that may be the home of space visitors who intervened in early human history. The creations have come in search of their gods to ask one of the most basic questions of existence: Why? Although this is the stated goal of the mission, several individuals have their own agendas.
The lead scientists are Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), although their role as “leaders” is somewhat limited. Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) is in charge, and she makes it clear that if aliens are found, contact is not to be initiated. Prometheus‘ captain, Janek (Idris Elba), is content to remain on the bridge of his ship and watch on monitors as the expedition departs. There is also an android on board: David (Michael Fassbender), whose motivations are inscrutable. The initial expedition discovers a series of massive underground caverns and chambers as well as the corpse of one giant humanoid, but nothing is alive. That quickly changes, however, and the life forms that come into being are not friendly.
Prometheus’ biggest strength is also one of its weaknesses. The film has a lot going on and I think it deserves credit for not playing it entirely safe. It’s a bit of an overreaching film with a lot of cerebral ideas. The problem is, all of these don’t work. A lot of Prometheus feels like a setup for another film with a hook that you’ll learn more about the goings on in a future installment. That being said, these ideas always keep the film interesting. This is a thinking man’s sci-fi film. There isn’t a ton of action, terror or suspense but a lot of the film’s questions and motivations are interesting enough to keep you hooked, even if they all don’t fully come together. While the more visceral scenes later in the film do work, they almost feel shoehorned in to keep audiences awake in case they fell asleep during the plot exposition.
Ridley Scott is a master filmmaker. Whether it’s Alien, Blade Runner or Gladiator, when he’s attached to the right project, he excels. There are come fair criticisms of Prometheus but not one can doubt his visual style which is on full display here. He keeps the atmosphere interesting enough to the point where it’s ultimately enticing. His camera makes us want to know more and the world he creates is instantly believable. He can make mundane scenes of the characters talking completely interesting and when he needs to turn up the tension (the surgery scene featuring Noomi Rapace being a true highlight) he shows that he has not lost his touch. He has become incredibly linked with this genre and this is another example as to why.
Admittedly, Prometheus isn’t an actor’s showcase. There is a lot of talent on display but the true star is atmosphere and mood, not performances. Noomi Rapace is a capable lead but she’s no Ripley. She does offer up a softer heroine that captivates the audience because of the knowledge she is seeking out. She’s also vulnerable in all the right ways that make it necessary to root for her. The real standout is Michael Fassbender as David who turns his android character into someone who is instantly interesting. We know characters like this desire to be more than they are programmed to be and he does a good job of keeping us guessing as to what his true intentions are as he becomes more self-aware. Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and Logan Marshall-Green provide adequate support but they don’t break any new ground either.
I watched this film again before writing this review and I feel about it now as I did nearly 5 years ago. It does have its problems but its ideas are so captivating that it kept me glued to my screen from start to finish. It’s a more adult sci-fi affair that may not have all the excitement of some of the films of the genre but it’s never uninteresting. This is something that should be applauded. Not all science fiction films are about viscera. Sometimes they just need to make you ponder a bit.
Reel Talk gives Prometheus 3 Reels