In Greek mythology, Prometheus was the titan who created the first men from clay and went on to steal fire from the gods for human use. His courageous act enabled mankind to progress and civilizations to rise but resulted in a terrible punishment for him: Being chained to a rock and having his insides devoured by an eagle day after day for the rest of eternity.
Enter Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, a prequel of sort to his 1979 seminal science-fiction classic, Alien. The film alludes to similar themes and motifs from the myth of Prometheus, proposing the idea that an advanced alien race gave birth to the human race. But does it fulfill all the promise of its extraordinarily fascinating premise and Fox’s excellent marketing campaign? Alas, I must say it all felt a bit underwhelming.
Set in the year 2093, the film centers on the 17-man crew of the title spaceship which is awakened from two years of hyper-sleep as they approach their destination, a distant planet known only as LV-223. Archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), with the help of aging billionaire industrialist Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) funding the expedition, are hoping to uncover crucial clues to the origins of mankind and perhaps even literally meet their makers. What they find however is a lot more than they bargained for.
In some ways, one could compare Prometheus with Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Both movies share stunning visuals and more significantly, rise ambitious questions about the origins and meaning of life. Both movies deserve lots of credit for overreaching and having too much going on. But while Malick managed to craft a movie so emotionally and thematically rich as to be nearly incoherent, Scott mistakes his own film’s lack of coherence for real depth and meaningfulness.
The result is an undercooked and muddled movie that, despite alluding to fascinating spiritual questions, waste its incredible potential with too many unanswered questions. Why is the “Engineer” in the opening sequence of the film giving birth to mankind? Why is Scott alluding to the death of Jesus Christ as a turning point after which the ‘Engineers’ decided to change their mind? What is android David (Michael Fassbender) up to when he poisons a major character with the black goo? It’s as if major chunks of the movie were edited out, leaving viewers to grasp for narrative strands that likely just weren’t well thought out to start with.
Not helping the film’s cause are its thinly drawn characters which are almost all completely extraneous and one-dimensional despite a talented cast of actors. Charlize Theron plays the stock no-nonsense corporate stand-in with some daddy issues while Idris Elba takes on the role of the likable cowboy pilot who sits in his cockpit for almost the entire length of the movie. Meanwhile, Sean Harris and Rafe Spall play two simpleton scientists who, one minute, are running away terrified by an unseen threat, only to try cuddling an obviously deadly alien creature the next.
Aside from Noomi Rapace’s main character, Michael Fassbender’s David is the sole character with some semblance of personality, which testifies of his talent given that he is playing a freaking android. David pins to be more human-like, leading to some strangely creepy interactions with the crew but we never get a full understanding of his potentially nefarious motives.
Don’t get me wrong, Prometheus can be a wildly entertaining film with some truly mesmerizing set pieces and a terrific atmosphere. Unlike most summer blockbusters, it has the verve to reach for something more than mindless explosions and jump-scares. There are interesting parallels to the motif of Prometheus, the creator of life with his insides open, such as an horrific scene in a surgery pod that no one will forget. The problem is that for all of Scott’s overreaching attempts to make you think about its big ideas, this a frustrating film that fails to follow up on any of it.