Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is one of the most anticipated films of the summer, partly due to Scott’s reputation as a director and partly due to our apparent love affair with CGI. As I think I’ve mentioned before, as a kid I really enjoyed watching sci-fi movies with my dad, so I was also looking forward to the movie, which looked like one we would have seen in the 90s, only spiffed up. It turns out that Prometheus is all flash and little substance, leaving me bored by the end of two hours.
Prometheus opens in the 2080s on scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) who have tracked an image of man worshiping a constellation through the iconography of several ancient civilizations. From that information, they are able to find the location represented in the images, a solar system that contains a Saturn-like planet with a moon that could sustain life. They figure that the secret of human origins, possibly aliens who “engineered” us, may be on that moon. Years later, Shaw, Holloway, and fifteen others are deep in space aboard a trillion dollar expedition funded by the Weyland Corporation to “meet our makers.” Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), the woman in charge of the mission, is skeptical that they will find anything at all. Meanwhile, the robot in charge of communications, David (Michael Fassbender), knows more than he lets on. When the team lands on the moon, what they find is more than they bargained for.
What I found was that Prometheus felt recycled and internally inconsistent. The plot and visuals seem to owe a lot to sci-fi movies of the past such as Sphere, The Thing, The X-Files (there is black oil!) and Scott’s own Alien, but not in a way that looks like homage. In some places, it just feels like deja vu. Further, the film sets up a false dichotomy between science and faith and then blurs the line, but does so in inconsistent ways so the theme becomes slightly unintelligible. Scott is clearly playing with the tension between faith and reason, but there’s no point to it. I also wonder why everyone assumed that the aliens created us. What if they were just ancestors from another planet who procreated on Earth? That would fit better with the whole Greek god theme nested in the title, a theme that is never coherently handled beyond a mention of Prometheus bringing fire to man. Worse yet, the plot meanders in a way that obscures some key details. Most glaringly, Vickers insists that the team is there for the Weyland Corps agenda, not Shaw’s, yet David seems to know the truth about the mission, not her. I don’t think it’s ever clear what the team is supposed to be doing if not finding the source of human life. Early on, as the scientists are doing their investigations and explaining their theories, the movie is smart and compelling. The longer it runs, the more it falls apart.
In Prometheus, we also learn that even 80 years in the future, there will only be three women on an expedition of 17 people. Plus, they will have to fall firmly within one of three categories: the healer, the believer, and the ice queen. Janek (Idris Elba) is barely in the movie and when she is featured, her role mostly falls to medical care or providing exposition. Meanwhile, Dr. Shaw is the hopeless believer seeking the secret of life, yet infertile herself. That is until a monstrous fetus takes residence in her body (seemingly not in her uterus?), giving rise to possibly the most dramatic sequence of the film. I couldn’t tell if I was more aghast at the monster or at how stereotypical the plot was. On the other hand, Theron’s Vickers is so frigid that at one point she is asked if she’s a robot. Plus she has daddy issues.
Despite my many varied issues with the screenplay, the acting was really pretty good. Rapace is initially far too earnest, but eventually delivers some really powerful scenes and an amazing moment of pulling herself together. Charlize Theron possibly just delivered a toned-down version of her evil queen in Snow White and the Huntsman. Fassbender as David is by far the most compelling character in the film. His humane depiction of a robot who is possibly evil and possibly just tired of being reminded that he’s not human was a weird mix of sweet and chilling.
All things considered, Prometheus wasn’t worth all the hype. I did really enjoy the score though. 2.5/5 stars
Prometheus was directed by Ridley Scott and written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelhof. It runs 124 minutes and is rated R for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language.