By Jessica Delfanti | June 7, 2012
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: John Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
Starring: Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba
In the spectrum of Science Fiction, few films have had as lasting an impression as Ridley Scott’s Alien. Now, Scott returns to the universe with his Prometheus, but fails to restore the prior film’s careful magnificence.
Prometheus starts with fantastic tension. Two scientists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a collection of prehistoric signs on Earth that seem to indicate the existence of life in another solar system. Aboard the Prometheus, a typical sci-fi ragtag crew including the snippy Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), the comedic relief Captain Janek (Idris Elba) and the calculating android David (Michael Fassbender), travel to the distant planet to explore. When they discover a massive structure, things get sticky. Literally.
The Prometheus makes its journey into space with another special component: our anticipation, multiplied exponentially by Scott’s oblique references to Alien. What was a masterful marketing trick turns out to be a hindrance in the film, as it devolves into a Where’s Waldo of unrewarding Alien references. Where this distraction is annoying, it might be forgivable if Prometheus had the substance to establish itself as its own entity. However, the plot that starts out so promising quickly becomes tattered and confusing. Writers John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (Lost) are fiendish in creating storylines but apparently have little interest in concluding them. One of the delights of science fiction is that it allows storytellers to work with sky-high stakes, and this is true of Prometheus. However, with its furious desire to be an epic, the film feels diminutive and underwhelming, too auspicious for how small its intellectual scope turns out to be.
The inflated narrative is then paired with a script that is almost impressively over the top. Characters that are indicated as some of the brightest minds of Earth manage to say and do ridiculously stupid and unfounded things. Their interactions unfold into eye-roll worthy clichés. The dialogue is talky but vague, so the plot’s explanations are more baffling and frustrating than enlightening.
To their credit, the film’s talented actors do what they can with their material. Theron has the worst lot in a role embarrassingly reminiscent of old fashioned female characters that asserted that powerful women must also be weakened by qualities like pettiness and asperity. At the forefront, Rapace and Marshall-Green deliver their lines with an overcompensating enthusiasm. The only actor graced with a developed character, Elba stands out in the ensemble cast as he plays his Captain Janek with relish.
Then there is David. David is the VIP Player here, the prize pony of the project. Fassbender gives an incredible performance, tying a tenuous humanity to a sociopathic brutality–a combination that would feel jarring in any other character. David’s childlike curiosity and ignorant (or uncaring?) exploration comprise the most interesting parts of the film. Every scene in Prometheus that is filtered through David’s perspective is so unique, so creepily intellectual, that it becomes exciting, new, and inexplicably addicting. Sadly, even an android isn’t strong enough to carry a whole movie on its shoulders.
David isn’t the only commendable aspect of the film. The set and effects are beautifully rendered and polished, so that both the ship and the planet appear tangible. In a genre that is filled with hokey props and shoddy workmanship, Prometheus easily rises to the top in quality of imagery, design, and aesthetics.
Perhaps if Prometheus materialized from the ether as an isolated project the expectations would not have been so high. Yet with the carefully developed anticipation for the Alien prequel, a run of the mill film doesn’t cut it. The only thing impressive about Prometheus is its overwhelming mediocrity.