Few summer films have as much buzz as “Prometheus” — largely for “Blade Runner” Director Ridley Scott’s much-anticipated return to the science-fiction genre and its rumored connection to the “Alien” franchise he started in 1979.
And on many fronts, Scott delivers exactly what you’d expect. The sets are massive in scope and prove that actual set designs can still pack a “wow that’s cool” impact beyond the now-standard CGI creation. The very talented cast is more than up to the challenge of making their characters engaging, the score is suitably bombastic and there’s that ominous sense that something is about to go decidedly wrong at any moment.
But despite all that, Scott never manages to reach that next gear to really make “Prometheus” special. It’s competent, but you likely won’t feel as if you’ve just witnessed a modern-day classic by the time the credits roll.
“Prometheus” hits all the buttons it needs to for science-fiction fans, but isn’t anything extraordinarily different than what’s already come before. Call it calculated fiction with few daring chances and little to stay with you beyond the credits.
Explorers Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green, “Devil”) find the latest piece in what they believe to be a message from beyond the stars that could hold the key to mankind’s origin. Shaw is especially conflicted as she seeks to find the connection between this new information and her faith.
Their discovery attracts the attention of Peter Weyland (a nearly unrecognizable Guy Pearce, “Lockout”) who finances their deep space journey and helps recruit a team to accompany them.
The team is the typical grab bag of personalities including Vickers (Charlize Theron, “Snow White and the Huntsman”) the alpha female; Janek (Idris Elba, “Thor”), the laid-back captain and David (Michael Fassbender, “Haywire”) the corporation’s “is he shady?” or “is he just completely uptight?” android.
Fassbender is in his do no wrong phase with me and again he delivers an excellent performance, giving David a stiff, rigid demeanor that really conveys a creature not bogged down by emotions and focused on a singular purpose that may or may not doom the rest of the crew.
Elba and Rapace are also great fun, but Theron gets cheated out of having much to do once Vickers is done barking out orders but standing in corners looking menacing.
The script, by “Lost” veteran Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts (“The Darkest Hour”), is overly simplistic and doesn’t answer much of the questions it raises, so by the end there’s a certain lack of satisfaction with what’s occurred and the point of the entire endeavor.
There’s a number of blink and you’ll miss it connections to the original “Alien,” but you don’t have to be well versed in the film mythos as “Prometheus” works fine as a standalone. It actually probably will help your enjoyment as there’s a surprising number of inconsistencies between the two and events transpiring that from what we’re shown should not lead to events in “Alien.” It’s a bit of storytelling sloppiness that shouldn’t require a sequel to line up correctly.
Scott does his part in establishing a new world. The actors are dwarfed on the large sets and when the action heats up, he’s unflinching in showing the violent consequences of the crew’s attempt to learn what may have best been left unknown. The final act is the one point where Scott gets to nearly pull it altogether with a spectacular last battle, but again the weak plot betrays his best efforts to make the spectacle meaningful.
It’s entirely possible I was expecting too much from “Prometheus” given the pedigree of everyone involved. “Alien” remains one of the standout science-fiction films despite the vast technological improvements in the last three decades, because Scott never lost focus that the characters were the most important element no matter what they faced. In “Prometheus,” the characters are more tools to get from one intriguing scenario to the next without anything beyond what we’re shown on the surface level. For a film whose title is based off Greek mythology of bringing fire to mankind, there’s little real spark.
Rating: 4 out of 10