If you’re the slightest bit superstitious, it would seem like a bad idea to call the home vehicle that sustains your life in the cold vacuum of space “Prometheus.” Yes, it’s bad-ass to steal from the gods, but let us all remember that the legend ends with the eternal punishment of a giant bird eating your liver every day. Not that the characters within this movie can be expected to know yet that the destruction of one’s insides by a violent carnivore is a hallmark of the movie franchise of which they find themselves a part.
In case there was any doubt, Prometheus is an Alien prequel, though it also ends with a deliciously mean tease for future films that are not Alien. And while we’re on the topic, from here on out let’s refer to the face-hugging, chest-bursting, acid-bleeding, glass-dildo-headed critters from the prior Ridley Scott sci-fi film as “xenomorphs.” It simply won’t do to use the a-word now that other creatures from different planets exist in this universe – even if you choose to go “lalalalala that never happened” when it comes to the presence of Predators (for better and worse, I accept all those movies as canon, and nothing in Prometheus directly contradicts anything from the Predator era… I think… depending on in which future year Predator 2 was supposed to be set).
It’s hard to spoil absolutely nothing about this movie – even the trailers have shown more than you think they have, but have done so without giving away the context, which is everything. Usually I consider it fair game to discuss a film’s first full scene, but not here – like the intro to Austin Powers in Goldmember (in effect if not in style or substance), it’s so unexpected and so damned cool that you need to discover it yourself. Its significance, even after the film is over, is something I’d love to discuss and debate, but we’ll all have to come back here after everyone has seen it.
The very first image, on the other hand, I can and will mention, as it’s the first of several tributes to 2001. Mimicking that movie’s first shot, it’s the Earth with a horizontal crescent of light on the topside, against a backdrop of stars. And here’s the cool thing – if you’re watching in 3D, every star is on a different plane. Scott shooting in 3D is a major part of the draw here, for those who like both director and style.
Then in 2089, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her partner/lover Holloway (Tom Hardy lookalike Logan Marshall-Green) discover something buried in a cave, and, again like 2001, there’s a sudden cut to a space expedition much later, the direct result of the discovery that ancient cave paintings from various times and cultures all point to one particular constellation, where one moon of a ringed planet (hi, Avatar!) is capable of supporting life. Given what we learn later, the reason why these paintings all lead there is also something I’d like to debate/discuss, but not now (for your sake). Meanwhile, in the useless trivia department, let it be noted that Liz Shaw was the name of one of the key companions to Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who, and that “Elizabeth Shaw” is not dissimilar to “Lisbeth Salander,” Rapace’s most famous role to date (and one so different that her acting talents should be in no doubt at this stage).
As this is part of the Alien franchise, it’s probably no shocking surprise that once the moon is arrived at, the series’ other key hallmark kicks in – characters get killed off one by one. C’mon, you knew that. Thankfully, it’s no mere slasher; there are a lot of ideas at play. Those who dislike the film will undoubtedly dismiss those ideas as Religion/Philosophy 101 window dressing; those like me who love it can keep their eyes out for all the motifs. Religion versus science is the key dynamic, and things play out as a sort of twisted reversal of the Christ tale – rather than a god becoming mortal to better understand you, what if you learn that God always was mortal and doesn’t give a shit? Are you obliged to kill your gods once your development reaches a certain level? From the image glimpsed in the trailer of what appears to be a crucified xenomorph queen, to a nasty bit of Cronenbergian business that arguably mocks the Virgin Birth, or possibly the lesser-miracle birth of John the Baptist (the madonna-whore complex is also in effect; Sex equals death as surely here as at Camp Crystal Lake) and the ongoing use of the android David (Michael Fassbender, wonderfully cold and playful like a more ruthless Spock) to compare man’s attempts at creation to God’s, the human-deity relationship is Prometheus‘ preoccupation. Even the digital map the crew makes of hidden alien tunnels is green and shaped like a Christmas tree, with scanners as red baubles, referencing the religious undertones while bloodily riffing on the notion of opening surprise presents.
There are one or two things I’m not crazy about, and, fortunately, I can air those without giving away anything major. Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland, a man seemingly older than anybody alive in our era, is an odd casting choice, not because Pearce is bad, but because there’s no reason not to cast an actual old man in the role, save for that one viral video in which Pearce acts his age. As a result, it’s impossible to forget you’re watching a young man play at geriatrics (and, seemingly, at being John Hurt, though it’s not clear that this character would have a specific connection to Alien‘s Kane).
Also, a key line of exposition delivered by Idris Elba is cringeworthy, both because it’s so on-the-nose and because he shouldn’t be the character to have that piece of knowledge. And I could do without hearing the phrase “weapons of mass destruction” in any movie ever again, thanks.
So is it the film you wanted? If you were hoping for deep, dark visuals by Scott in 3D, a story involving the mysterious Space Jockey, or a goth take on 2001 and 2010 combined, this delivers. If you wanted a more James Cameron-style action movie, it doesn’t. Do you like movies that don’t spoon-feed everything, leaving a few loose ends up for discussion, or do you hate when stories leave things dangling? In fairness, this story is reasonably complete even with gratuitous sequel tease, but it certainly leaves many possibilities open (such as the reason for life on Earth; I like what I think the film’s implying in that department, but can’t be sure).
Prometheus is stellar slasher sci-fi for the cerebral gorehound. That’s me. Is it you?