Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is the kind of sci-fi movie Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. Big, ambitious, and waxing philosophical, it’s a film of intelligent ideas, which is not something you can say about most movies featuring sentient beings from another planet these days. And, while it can sometimes be lumbering, and is certainly too epic for its own good, Scott proves that, like the mythological Titan from whom the film gets its name, it is sometimes better to try and fall short than to not try at all.
After one of the more enigmatic (not to mention disturbing) openings in recent memory, the film introduces us to the crew of the spaceship Prometheus, who believe they have found another planet that may play host to extraterrestrial life. But these aren’t just any aliens; they are our creators. At least, that’s what scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) think. Others on the ship, such as Captain Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), are not so sure. They’re just in it for the money. Conflict ensues between the scientists, who are eager to ask their creators why they were created, and Vickers, who has no desire for contact, only proof of the creators’ existence.
The cast here is phenomenal. Theron turns in another great performance a second week in a row, and Rapace is very believable as the scientist who is just trying to put everything together. The star of the show, however, is Michael Fassbender as the android David. Praising Fassbender is par for the course these days, but I am not yet done being surprised by how consistently excellent he is.
Searching for the origins of life is not a task to be taken lightly, and Scott treats the subject of man’s search for meaning in the universe with appropriate gravitas. It’s refreshing to see a blockbuster filmmaker ask big questions about God, man’s place in the universe, and even the place of the universe itself without offering definitive answers one way or the other. And, rather than glossing over the theological implications of such an expedition, screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (a Lost veteran) allow us to revel in the mystery.
Unfortunately, some of the mystery reveals itself in unresolved plot points and incomplete character development. This is most evident in the character of David, who makes a major decision in the first half of the movie that is never explained. We see the consequences of his actions, but are never led to why he did what he did in the first place. It’s a shame, because Fassbender’s performance is so good, that we can never really understand if we’re supposed to be rooting for him or against him.
While the film’s reach extends its grasp in some areas, it benefits from Scott’s minimalistic filmmaking. The film is gorgeous, yes, but it’s not flashy, and there’s nary an explosion in sight. He allows the story to unfold slowly, the pace rising alongside the intensity. Other than one scene, it never reaches fever-pitch levels of horror like his original Alien consistently delivered, but that does not make it slow. The pacing fits the more contemplative and philosophical nature of the screenplay.
Whether you like it or not, Prometheus is the kind of film that sticks with you. Ever since leaving the theater, I find myself mulling over its lofty themes and reflecting on the beauty of its cinematography. It’s the most obtuse film this side of The Tree of Life, but that’s what makes it stand out amidst a Summer sure to be filled with explosions and check-your-brain-at-the-door plotlines, Prometheus is far from perfect, but it’s haunting, thrilling, and, most importantly, has something to say. What is that something? Beats me. Just sit back and enjoy the mystery.