Prometheus

Prometheus

[SPOILER WARNING: Reader beware, there are some fairly serious plot twists mentioned in the following review; if you don’t want to ruin the surprise, you might want to hold off reading this ’til after you see the movie. Just so you know…]

Some people never learn, and some people only have one trick up their sleeves. It’s hard to tell which you’re dealing with sometimes, and Prometheus is a perfect example of that. Ridley Scott‘s much anticipated return to the Alien universe morphed, in the hands of co-screenwriter Damon Lindelof (Lost), into a sci-fi epic asking bold questions about a creation’s relationship with its creator (or creators) that would very much like to be this generation’s 2001.

The plot itself is the heady stuff of Clark and Kubrick. In the late 21st century, a pair of archeologists (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) have discovered a series of murals spanning multiple ancient human civilizations all pointing to a far-off star system ancient humans couldn’t have known about on their own. Convincing a dying industrialist (Guy Pearce) to fund their adventure, they and a crew of scientists and miners have traveled across the galaxy to discover signs of an ancient spacefaring race which may well have bioengineered humanity itself.

It would like to be that, but the end result is something which contains both the strengths and weaknesses of both creators, which suggest limits neither man may be able to get past. For Scott, despite all his skill, he needs a good script given to him to produce a good movie, without the ability to fix problems through his own storytelling acumen. And Lindelof seem to have a lack for follow-through at least equal to his ability to build a story up. What they produce together, then, is a film which is immensely entertaining but ultimately deeply unsatisfying, bound to leave audiences with a sense of “wait, that’s it?” which transcends anything else they might take from it.

Until that happens, Prometheus is an immensely entertaining film. Scott and his normal band of compatriots, particularly cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and production designer Arthur Max, have crafted an exceptionally beautiful film.

And an intensely moody one. From the sleeping crew watched over by a lone android (Michael Fassbender) desperate to entertain himself to the first sight of an underground complex filled with dead bodies and strange capsules, Scott has filled his film with a deep sense of dread that rarely ever requires jump scares to keep its audience on the edge of its seat. And it’s a dread which comes from multiple areas, as Shaw (Rapace) must contend with not only what is inside the ancient cavern but someone conducting covert experiments on the crew itself and the something the Prometheus brought with them all the way from Earth, which only David and the company’s representative (Charlize Theron) know about.

Despite all those disparate plot threads, Lindelof and co-writer Jon Spaihts‘ script and Scott’s direction keep all the strands together with ease, speed, and verve throughout the story. It’s all promising to come together to answer the question of what were the Engineers doing with their strange black ooze, which mutates any life form it comes into contact with into some sort of crazed killing machine, and what were they planning on doing to Earth with it?

Unfortunately, these are promises which will never be answered, and how much you will like Prometheus depends a great deal on how much that bothers you. To put it another way, if you liked the last episode of Lost, then Prometheus will suit you just fine. And if you didn’t, stay away.

It’s not a complete waste of time, mind you. When it is good, it is very good; Scott knows how to make a movie, and most of his cast are more than up to the challenge. Rapace, Fassbender, and Theron are particular standouts, introducing ambiguity and strength in surprising places and always keeping you guessing about what drives them. In fact, most of the main cast is perfectly chosen, with the one major drawback being square jawed Logan Marshall-Green as Holloway, Shaw’s partner, who seems picked more for his looks than for any particular acting ability.

That’s not entirely his fault, though, as the script does him no favors, casting Holloway as starry-eyed dreamer who acts like a bi-polar man-child, particularly when things don’t go his way. Marshall-Green isn’t the actor to salvage a part like that, but ultimately it’s just another indicator of Prometheus‘s one huge, glaring weakness: its script.

For all the thought and effort which has gone into the first two thirds of the film, ultimately the script doesn’t know what it wants to say and instead wants to have its cake and eat it to, giving its audience nothing but ambiguity after two hours spent implicitly promising the opposite. There’s nothing wrong with ambiguity, but it has its place as much as detail does, and part of being a good storyteller is to know when to use it and when not to. Lindelof either hasn’t learned that or only knows one trick — I still can’t tell which — and Scott doesn’t seem the director to fix that problem.

Prometheus is enjoyable for what it is more often than not, though anyone expecting something up to the standards of Scott’s most well-regarded films is best off reeling in their expectations a bit. Most of that is because of a third-act collapse which the film just can’t get out of the way of. For all the noise and thunder early on, Prometheus just runs out of steam, but what a ride until it does.

Cast: Noomi Rapace as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw; Michael Fassbender as David; Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers; Idris Elba as Captain Janek; Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland; Logan Marshall-Green as Charlie Holloway; Sean Harris as Fifield; Rafe Spall as Millburn; Emun Elliott as Chance; Benedict Wong as Ravel; Kate Dickie as Ford.

[Prometheus opens nationwide 6/8/12.]
(Scott Free Productions -- http://www.rsafilms.com/page/scott-free; Brandywine Productions; 20th Century Fox -- http://www.foxmovies.com/; Dune Entertainment; Prometheus -- http://www.prometheus-movie.com/; Prometheus (Facebook) -- http://www.facebook.com/Prometheus)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Tuesday, June 5th, 2012. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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