Once upon a time, “Prometheus” was one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer, a testament to the staying power of director Ridley Scott’s “Alien” franchise and its titular parasitic, eyeless, acid blood-having villain. Its rabid fanbase has seen its favorite murder-loving xenomorph packaged into ignoble crossovers in both comics and on the big screen (“Alien vs. Predator” in theaters, but also the comics, “Superman/Aliens,” “Batman/Aliens” and perhaps most hilariously, “Aliens versus Predator versus The Terminator”). “Prometheus,” which promised a reputable, high-concept answer to the questions left behind in Scott’s original 1979 cult classic, was a rare prequel that had been embraced by fans as the answer that would revitalize their pet franchise.
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However, the major plot events that connect the franchise with what’s technically its latest installment aren’t readily apparent until late into the film. Initially, we’re introduced to Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”) and her boyfriend Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green, “Brooklyn’s Finest”), who find some cave paintings that tell them that aliens from a faraway planet engineered humanity. They secure a trillion dollars (literally) from Weyland Corporation, owned by super-rich, super-old Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce and several tons of aging makeup, “The Hurt Locker”) and jet off to this mysterious solar system. Along for the ride are David (Michael Fassbender, “Shame”) the sociopathic android and a team of mysteriously sourced “scientific experts.” No icky parasites to be seen.
Visually though, similarities are apparent almost immediately. A few beautifully shot wide angles are more reminiscent of the newer Ridley Scott vehicles such as “Kingdom of Heaven,” and capture some incredible natural landscapes, but the majority of the film occurs in an abandoned cave complex, mysterious, dimly lit and as claustrophobic as “Alien.” The action of the two movies is structured almost identically, but Scott uses this predictability to his film’s advantage, lulling audiences into a false sense of security, until small, sudden departures from what’s expected scare you out of your seat. We’ve seen a lot of this before – the flamethrowers and the spacesuits, the mysterious aliens and the jars full of canned death – but somehow all of it feels fresh, different and scary as hell.
The fact that the film manages to instill jaw-dropping, nerve-wracking tension into its viewers shows that even in old age, Ridley’s still got it. What makes this a particularly proud accomplishment for Hollywood’s sage elder is the film’s hackneyed script, some of the most atrocious screenwriting to ever enter production. Written in large part by Damon Lindelof (the guy who ruined the “Lost” finale), the stench of its flaws permeates the entire film. Dialogue between characters is often stilted. The characters themselves are irrationally motivated and completely unbelievable (in a lot of cases, unbelievably, hilariously dumb). Nitpickers, and anybody else in the audience with a healthy attention span and functioning memory, will note the multitude of plot holes and feel mildly insulted by the film’s conclusion, which attempts to tie up all the loose ends through a broad voiceover tease to a potential sequel.
Even there, it’s not quite a total loss. Fassbender, as per usual, turns in a fascinating performance, battling through a few crudely placed one-liners and crafting a character that seems not just inscrutable, or erratic, but truly soulless. Rapace, to her credit, does strong-willed and stubborn almost as well as her predecessor, Sigourney Weaver. Their performances, and the film’s technical execution, make it an enjoyable experience and slightly more than another waste of money, even if you do see it in 3-D.