Without warning, critics that were once songbirds chirping with anticipation about director Ridley Scott’s return to sci-fi with Prometheus have turned into a savage pack of eagles relentlessly devouring the film’s liver. Honestly, the titular metaphor is almost too perfect, as Scott’s return to the universe he helped create with Alien has been blasted for essentially “not knowing its place,” for daring to overreach without presenting all of the “answers” we clay-based beings feel we deserve in the manner in which we feel we deserve them.
No, it’s not Alien.
Nope, it’s not Blade Runner.
But while it may fall short of two of the most seminal and transformative works of science-fiction to ever appear in any medium, Prometheus is breathtaking, thrilling and ought not be confined to critical or box office Hades for daring to be a half-step (and only a half-step) from undeniable brilliance.
The first scene alone justifies a ticket purchase, as the origins of human life silently play out, a demonstration that screenwriter Damon Lindelof, working from a draft by Jon Spaihts, is daring to tackle the big stuff and playing for keeps. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her lover, Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), discover artifacts on Earth that point to the heavens. Specifically, they believe they have pinpointed the spot in the sky where our creators live.
With the funding of what Alien-savvy audiences know to be the sinister Weyland corporation, Elizabeth and a crew that includes the largely unflappable captain Janek (Idris Elba), the android David (Michael Fassbender) and the likely-human-but-largely-robotic-acting Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) travel to the planet from which human life may have sprung. The “Engineers,” as Elizabeth calls them, or “Space Jockeys,” as fans of Alien call them, appear to have some less-than-desirable intentions towards humanity and also appear to be mostly dead.
Slowly, the gang gets picked off by various beasts and beings, as the explorers come to realize that they haven’t stumbled into paradise so much as they may have found what was to be the staging ground for an attempt to extinguish humanity altogether. While some motivations of the creatures and characters are open to speculation, this is the main thrust of what is a relatively straightforward, unambiguous, completely non-messy, adventure-filled epic.
The most fascinating and complex character runs on batteries, as David’s sometimes contradictory behavior, which is clearly manipulated by a largely unseen hand, allows Fassbender to demonstrate the greatest range of the cast. As underdeveloped as everyone who isn’t named Elizabeth may be, Scott fills in those gaps with gobstopping visuals while Lindelof provides delightfully head-scratching religious-based and sociological-based meditation questions.
And no, the film doesn’t conclude with a bullet-point list of explanations nor an exposition-heavy monologue, which is apparently what many out there must need. Yes, there are soft, mushy explanations that are open to personal imagination and, if you’re lucky, heated debate. All that from a big-budget summer blockbuster and yet somehow the chorus of complaints is being sung the loudest.
Prometheus is beholden to Alien but not dependent on it, in much the same way sentient beings are related to a divine creator. This is the rarest of all Hollywood creatures: an often-thrilling, never-boring, wildly creative, original story told with unbeatable craftsmanship by a true master. If that’s not enough for you, Adam Sandler’s new movie comes out next weekend.
Grade = A-