It’s scatterbrained and episodic, but “Prometheus” remains one dilly of a trek to the origins of mankind. Or, should I say, man meat?
It’s scatterbrained and episodic, but “Prometheus” remains one dilly of a trek to the origins of mankind. Or, should I say, man meat? Apparently, that’s what we’ve become in the eyes of our celestial ancestors, methodically checking off a grocery list of invading humans destined for gruesome fates.
True to the unwritten Hollywood rule, the order in which each thinly developed character meets his bitter end is in direct correlation with the size of his paycheck. For some of them, death can’t come soon enough to satiate our pleasure. But most, surprisingly, are worth rooting for even though the odds of them living to see the inevitable sequel are slim.
The high body count should come as no surprise to fans of Ridley Scott’s previous dabble with bloodthirsty extraterrestrials in his sci-fi masterpiece, “Alien.” In many ways, “Prometheus” is a carbon copy of that film’s mix of unnerving suspense and gross-out frights. Even the slithery purveyors of death bear more than a passing resemblance to the navel-ripping serpents that created so much havoc on the bloodstained decks of the Nostromo. But even if the 33-year-old formula tastes a bit stale this go-round, it doesn’t mean it’s any less fun.
Clearly, Scott and his writers, Jon Spaihts and “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof, are of the belief that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And any lack in originality is handsomely compensated by the plethora of 3-D visual treats courtesy of a crackerjack technical crew that includes director of photography Dariusz Wolski, production designer Arthur Max and effects supervisor Richard Stammers. Together, they’ve created an eerie interplanetary moonscape that’s as epic as it is requisitely foreboding. From the moment the crew of the massive space schooner, the Prometheus, touches down on the seemingly lifeless soil in search of the “engineers” believed responsible for the creation of man, you know nothing good is going to come of their efforts.
It does, however, take a while for our suspicions to come to fruition, leaving Scott and company nearly an hour to establish a pretense that their film is about something other than blood and guts. As far as subterfuges go, though, “Prometheus” presents an intriguing one in which our intrepid space explorers debate the merits of Darwinism vs. intelligent design. Leading the deliberation is a sexy pair of paramour scientists played by Logan Marshall-Green and Noomi Rapace (the first and still best Lisbeth Salander from the Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”), who initiate the corporate-sponsored voyage after discovering what they believe to be a hieroglyphic invitation from our “creators” while spelunking in a cave off the Scottish coast.
Cut four years forward, to the year 2093, and we suddenly find ourselves aboard the Prometheus, where verbal brushfires are erupting as the ship hurdles toward its far-off destination. The main fight is over who has the right to call the shots. Is it Rapace’s Elizabeth, the lead scientist? Meredith (Charlize Theron), the no-nonsense, tough-as-nails proxy of mission-funder Peter Weyland (an unrecognizable Guy Pearce)? Or, the ship’s captain, the cool and steady Janek (the always terrific Idris Elba)? It’s not at all dissimilar to the battles waged by Tom Skerritt and Sigourney Weaver in “Alien.”
Unfortunately, that’s not the only tinge of “Alien” déjà vu in this quasi-prequel, but “Prometheus” (the title a reference to the titan who desired to give humans status equal to the gods) remains just different enough to exist on its own. And much of the credit for that goes to Michael Fassbender as the creepy, but personable android, David, a more menacing relative of “Star Trek’s” Data and what I enjoyed envisioning as a grown-up version of Haley Joel Osment’s David from “A.I.” And like the kid in that Spielberg epic, David wants to be as human as robotically possible, even going so far as to pour over clips from “Lawrence of Arabia” in order to model himself on Peter O’Toole, right down to the actor’s wispy blonde hair.
Fassbender, along with Rapace, are the standouts among an excellent cast that also includes Patrick Wilson as Elizabeth’s father, who instilled in his daughter the importance of faith. And you can bet that faith will be tested more than once, as Scott puts Elizabeth through an emotional and physical ringer that would make “Alien’s” Ripley weep. Rapace steadfastly absorbs it all, even the film’s most squirm-inducing scene in which Elizabeth performs a Cesarean on herself with the help of an automated surgical gadget. If that doesn’t make you want to toss your cookies, nothing will. There’s also a surprising amount of gallows humor, most of it courtesy of Fassbender, who again proves he’s one of the finest, most diverse actors working today.
Without him and Rapace (and to a slightly lesser extent, Theron), it’s hard to imagine “Prometheus” working as well as it does. And for them to stand out from the film’s dazzling array of special effects is further proof of their high-wattage power. You just wish Scott had afforded them a tad more depth, even if it meant the additional matter was at the expense of all the splatter.
PROMETHEUS (R for sci-fi violence, including some intense images and brief language.) Cast includes Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and Patrick Wilson. Directed by Ridley Scott. 3 stars out of 4.