Film Review: “Prometheus”

by Jason LeRoy on June 8, 2012

Logan Marshall-Green, Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender in PROMETHEUS

starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Guy Pearce

written by: Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof

directed by: Ridley Scott

MPAA: Rated R for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language

Prometheus is the first film this summer to approach greatness, and will likely be one of the only films all season to be associated with the word “classic.” It is an invigorating return to form for 74-year-old director Ridley Scott, whose films have too often become mired in mediocrity since changing the landscape of cinema forever with Alien in 1979 and Blade Runner in 1982. This is arguably his finest work since then. And while it bears his trademark emphasis on style and mood over substance and story, its visuals are so astoundingly captivating and fresh that one is willing to overlook a plot hole or two.

The year is 2093, and a group of scientists are on a spaceship called Prometheus en route to a distant world. Their quest is to discover the origin of human life, which a study of ancient cave paintings led them to believe could be revealed on this planet. Among the scientists are Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), who believes life has a divine origin, and her unbelieving boyfriend, Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green, basically a prettier and easier-to-understand Tom Hardy), who questions her intellectual integrity in claiming both faith and science. There is also David (Michael Fassbender), a Lawrence of Arabia-trained android servant, as well as Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), who acts like the captain of the ship, and Stringer Bell Janek (Idris Elba), the actual captain. There are other crew members too, but you can just think of them as First to Go, Second to Go, and so on.

What else to say of the plot? They land on the planet, begin to investigate, and gradually get the sense that whatever created them is trying to kill them. The film unfolds with an organic sense of discovery, building slowly to a too-late realization of doom. This is hard, intelligent, ice-cold sci-fi. Well, mostly. Screenwriter Damon Lindelof (Lost) can’t help but inject a few uplifting beats into the finale, breaking from the glacial Kubrickian detachment of Scott’s direction and the relentlessly claustrophobic dread of Alien, to which this film is at least somewhat connected. Many have called it a prequel, but it appears intended to function more as the beginning of a whole new mythology. (Lindelof’s involvement also explains why it seems far more interested in asking questions than in answering them.)

I mentioned that it bears the Ridley Scott stamp of style over substance, but to be fair, it does actually have quite a thought-provoking substance; it’s just that Scott, as usual, seems disinterested in it. There is much here for fanboys to chew on, many provocative ideas about the origin of life, as well as Tree of Life-style meditations on the complex relationship between creator and creation. The crew may be on a quest for answers from their creator, but they themselves are the creators of David. In this role, Fassbender is mesmerizing and exquisitely controlled. It is easily the film’s finest performance, and one of the most fascinating dramatic interpretations of a robot this side of Battlestar Galactica. The rest of the cast is solid, with Rapace nailing her biggest English-language role yet and Theron offering much more of the icy bitch-goddess perfection I wanted from her in Snow White and the Huntsman.

Prometheus is an intriguing and masterful puzzle that will reward multiple viewings. Visually, it creates an entirely unique new world; the art direction, cinematography, and visual effects work together as harmoniously as anything else we’re likely to see this year. Those looking for immediate “Oh, that’s an Alien reference and she must be Ripley’s mom!” prequel payoffs will be disappointed. But instead, what Scott and Lindelof have given us is something much richer and longer-lasting: the thrilling beginning of a whole new saga.

Prometheus opens nationwide today.

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