Monday Movie Review: Prometheus (3D)

Prometheus is actually a pretty difficult film to review, given that any discussion of it almost automatically veers into spoiler territory. As such, I will try to avoid the biggest revelations but be warned if you have yet to watch the film. This review may be best read once you have experienced Prometheus for yourself.

In short, Alien and Blade Runner director Ridley Scott’s much trumpeted return to the science fiction genre is a big fat dud. Prometheus is a disappointment in virtually every category, sunk particularly by a lazy script that deprives both characters and plot of the believability that’s essential for the audience to become invested in events onscreen.

To be fair, Prometheus starts off fantastically, with breathtaking shots of Earth in its most primordial, untouched state. Taking its cue from the Greek myth of Prometheus, the audience witnesses what we can assume – given later events in the film – is a rebel alien being gifting our world with its DNA.

Fast forward millennia and at the end of the 21st Century, a crew of 17 humans awake from cryosleep in their spacecraft, the Prometheus, as they approach what archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) insists is Mankind’s homeworld. Shaw is determined to find an extra-terrestrial reason for humanity’s creation and withered Weyland Corporation founder Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) shares her passion for answers, privately funding this trillion dollar mission into deep space. This is much to the disgust of Weyland’s risk-averse representative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). Anyway, our heroes land on the storm-ravaged planet, the scientists head off to investigate a towering alien structure, and things go terribly wrong.

To start with it’s all slow burn stuff, playing out like something akin to a BBC anthropology documentary, but that’s fine. What isn’t fine is the utterly illogical and frustrating behaviour of characters. In essence Prometheus depicts Mankind’s first contact with extra-terrestrial life, finding indisputable proof of its existence. This is arguably the most important discovery in humanity’s history, yet with the exception of Shaw and her partner-beau Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), the crew acts like they don’t give a shit. Nobody shares in this excitement. And nobody, apart from Vickers, responds to the complete unknown with expected wariness.

Our band of scientists just walk right into the alien dome, whip off their helmets and start touching everything. There’s no scouting of the structure by drones beforehand, or an attempt at securing the site with an armed contingent. When a pair of scientists – who really don’t want to be there despite this being the project of a lifetime – are stranded, they’re left to their own devices, as unmonitored as the ongoing digital mapping of the alien dome. And despite the fact that they have spent the entire movie up until this point running at the slightest whiff of danger, these scientific geniuses set up camp in the most dubious spot and start poking at alien specimens with their fingers.

Just as bad, characters in Prometheus have been painted with the broadest strokes. They’re types; not people. Our sweet, soft-spoken heroine wears her father’s crucifix and insists there’s no threat from the aliens simply because that’s what she “believes.” Meanwhile it’s easier to identify the unnamed and undeveloped supporting cast as “guys placing bets”, “chick with Scottish accent” and “Techno Viking”. To be fair, having just revisited 1979’s Alien this week, I can confirm that the crew of the Nostromo also go undeveloped as characters, but their camaraderie and increasingly terrified response to their situation is at least credible.

Fortunately, there are a few faces that get to emerge above Prometheus’s murky mediocrity and leave an impression. Idris Elba’s likeable spacecraft captain is one of the few characters to feel “real” and he provides some much needed warmth – enough in fact to melt through Vickers’s icy exterior. Theron for the record is also great, pushing her “robotically stiff bitch” onscreen persona to the limit, even if her character’s motivation is yawn-worthy when it’s revealed.

The real standout character and performance of the film though is Michael Fassbender as creepy android David. David has spent 2 and half years proudly caring for the Prometheus and its comatose crew, only to be greeted with disparaging comments from his expedition mates and even his “father” Peter Weyland. For a being that’s supposedly incapable of emotion, David’s stung arrogance and jealousy are obvious for anyone who cares to look… but the humans around him are too stupid and self-absorbed to notice.

Basically broken into 3 distinct Acts, Prometheus is tonally unsettled. The film has its high intensity moments but even the heavily flawed Event Horizon still easily trumps this one for getting under your skin.

Again, this seems due to some jarringly unrealistic script choices that are impossible to overlook. For example, a desperate, emotional Shaw fights off the crew and runs to the Prometheus’s automated surgery unit. The fact that nobody pursues her is so hard to swallow that you end up wondering if she’s perhaps just having a nightmare. Then, a few scenes later, the captain of all people – who hasn’t even stepped on the planet’s surface – is the one who conveniently explains to Shaw, and the audience, the nature of the aliens’ base.

*Deep sigh*

Many critics who have grumbled about Prometheus’s plot have praised the film for its visuals. The production certainly looks impressively big budget, with the CGI-effects top-class and convincing. This said, despite having been shot for 3D, the format adds nothing memorable to proceedings, and the film just replicates the look of the original Alien planet set for large chunks.

Speaking of which, at the end of the day, it would have been better if Prometheus had nothing to do with the Alien franchise. Yes, the film is a prequel despite all the contradicting denials and teasers of the past few months. However, there’s a strong sense that attempts to shoehorn the series’ big unanswered questions into this tale has left a convoluted mess. The process of creating the first Alien-style xenomorph is especially overcomplicated, and frankly you feel that all the hype build-up has only resulted in an even greater let down, because Prometheus only sporadically touches on horror/thriller turf.

I briefly flirted with giving Prometheus a passable 2 stars out of 5. However, the final few scenes pushed me over the edge. The film’s conclusion – and sequel set-up – honestly feels like someone is taking the piss, with our hero heading off into space on an intergalactic revenge quest, assisted by a head in a gym bag. Seriously.

I actually burst out laughing, and that is definitely not the response you want to receive in the closing moments of your supposedly dark, philosophical sci-fi yarn. Massively disappointing. Sorry, Ridley.

1 star out of 5.

This review originally appeared online at The Movies.


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