Prometheus (and yes this post will have at least a few spoilers) doesn’t really work.1
However, before we say anything about how it doesn’t really work, let us list off its good points. As an Alien prequel, it is serviceable. It is beautifully shot and composed – say what you will about Ridley Scott, but the man is one of the few truly ambitious sci-fi filmmakers still alive (when he chooses to make sci-fi, anyway) and he knows how to compose visuals that are memorable, striking and beautiful as needed. The ending is very fitting. There are several scenes that are admirably scary, creepy and thrilling all at once (the autosurgeon sequence leading among them). The cast is filled with actors I happen to quite like. Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of the android David is quite perfect, leaving just enough questions that it works as a whole. And Noomi Rapace fits quite well into Sigourney Weaver’s boots.2
But it still doesn’t really work. The plot is a jumble of mishmash ratatouille – it wants to be an Alien-style stalk and a bit of a conspiracy film all at once. It doesn’t introduce its various characters efficiently or well – there are characters who die at the very end of the film who get a reasonable amount of dialogue and I’m not sure what their names were. Compare this to Aliens, where every Colonial Marine gets at least one or two lines that distinguish themselves from the other Marines – even relative non-entities like Weirzbowski or Dietrich. Hell, Drake gets a fully recognizable character. He gets four lines.3 The ship in this movie has seventeen crew members, about half of which are morts who exist only to be killed off; it’s a waste of narrative space to even have them there.
And speaking of narrative, this movie bobs and weaves like a drunken sailor. At one point Idris Elba appears to be sacrificing two of his crewmen to the alien goo-menace – or was he? I’m still not sure, but I lean on the side of “not” because later on he starts talking about how it is vitally important not to let the alien ship go to Earth – and that’s the only reason because otherwise that initial scene plays out just like he is the villain of the movie. Michael Fassbender infects Logan Michael-Green’s character with the alien goo and it is never really explained why he does this. Like, I don’t even mean in a character way. I mean “it is never explained what his objective even was.” It certainly doesn’t make sense when you consider that David is ostensibly serving the wishes of Mr. Weyland, who supposedly just wants to meet the Prometheans so he can live forever. An entire subplot about Charlize Theron’s luxury escape pod exists only to set up the beacon that Newt’s family goes out to find in Aliens.
The one narrative leak that I don’t object to is that it is never explained why the Prometheans want to destroy Earth now. It’s not because that will be dealt with in the presumably-inevitable sequel-prequel4, but because they are fucking aliens and therefore it makes sense that they should have alien motives and wishes and desires, regardless of common DNA or whatever. That is fine. I don’t mind an unknowable menace; really, that falls right in line with the Aliens story philosophy. But the rest of the movie doesn’t support that to the extent that is needed. (It doesn’t help that we have to guess at David’s motivations at the same time as we are trying to guess at the Prometheans’ motivations.)
Basically: where the first two Alien films are tight, Prometheus is flabby. Where they are seamless, it is creaky. That does not mean Prometheus does not have its moments, and it’s heads above the usual summer dreck a studio puts out. But I can’t say that it is good, because it is not.
- A lot of British people and critics who saw it early were saying exactly that. I was really hoping they would be wrong, or at least pointlessly snobby, as critics so often are. [↩]
- Pre-boots. Whatever. [↩]
- Don’t let anybody tell you James Cameron can’t write a good script just because all they remember is Titanic and Avatar. [↩]
- “Seprequel?” [↩]