Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron • Directed by Ridley Scott • Age restriction: 16V • Releases 8 June
It has been over 20 years since director Ridley Scott blasted on to the scene with his now-iconic science-fiction film Alien – and while the film is set in the same Alien "universe", comparisons to the original film are unfair and unhelpful. Get into the thinking now: This movie is not Alien.
Set some time before the events of Alien, Prometheus begins as a search for the origins of mankind. Two passionate young archaeologists – Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway – have discovered a configuration of stars, leading them to the depths of space and a seemingly deserted planet. As they delve deeper into the search for their creators, they quickly realise that all is not as it seems – and events spiral quickly out of control.
Prometheus is visually exquisite and superbly gritty, bouncing largely between cramped and dark quarters and white, sterile spaceship environments. It's a film of textures: slime, ooze, crumbling rock, grit-your-teeth silica in storm-form and slick, smooth surfaces. Attention is paid to the smallest details: A logo on a t-shirt, small pieces of music haunting the film, the tiniest drops of liquid, with myriad lights reflected in its surface. Prometheus is packed with epic images and visual treats, making it one of the best-looking films I've seen this year.
But Scott's triumph is in the film's atmosphere. From the epically beautiful, haunting beginning to its very, very final frame, Prometheus is geared toward creating a sense of unease and stress lingering in moments that will make your skin crawl and your mind race with the possibility for disaster. For the most part, its horror does not generate from jump-out-of-your-skin moments – although they are there. Additionally, a subtle use of 3D brings another layer to the already wire-taut atmosphere, making the experience all that more immersive without resorting to cheap tricks.
Michael Fassbender steals the show entirely as David, the robot crewman on board Prometheus. Fassbender brings a level of sensitivity and humanity to David – without ever making him entirely human. Even before you know who he is, you're aware that something is quite off about David. His role is pivotal, his performance exquisite – easily the best of a crop of good actors. A particular highlight comes in the second half of the film, where David delights in a holographic map of the universe – his apparent delight palpable. He is apparently innocent, delighting in classic films as he tries to come to grips with what it is to be human.
Also providing a strong performance is Noomi Rapace, who burst onto the scene as Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish film versions of the Millennium trilogy. Where David is cold and scientific, Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw is warm; filled with conviction. She is an immensely strong character, driven with an almost religious fervour and equipped with an enviable survival instinct. Comparisons to Sigourney Weaver's iconic character of Ripley are inevitable: thankfully Rapace more than lives up to the memory of that role.
Another notable performance comes from Charlize Theron as the corporate suit, Meredith Vickers. She is hard and icy and, at one point, Prometheus' captain asks her whether she is a robot. She's not: but she does "bitch" really well. As the Weyland Corporation representative of the trillion-dollar mission, Vickers is filled with a need to be in control that borders on the pathological – and Theron's performance is well on point.
Prometheus has come under fire for its script – and not without justification. It is flawed – though thankfully not fatally so. A large stumbling block lies in the combination of illogical moments and continuity errors. Without giving away too much, there are instances where seemingly rational and logical characters do something verging on the insane: other moments, where the audience is expected to abandon our own logic in an attempt to kick the narrative moving again. There are instances where the story seems bitty as Scott tries to cram in as many separate storylines as he can. An extra 15 minutes might have helped to tie up some of the stories.
Co-written by Scott and Lost writer Damon Lindelof, Prometheus is ambitious, balancing debates of the origins of mankind and science against religion. While it cannot hope to answer all of these questions in its two-hour running time, I did not feel dissatisfied. To Prometheus' credit, my head was still buzzing with questions unanswered as I left the cinema. Do we really need to be spoon-fed all the answers? I don't believe so. But, should the film do well financially, I have no doubt that these questions would be answered eventually – there's plenty room left for a few sequels.
And after Prometheus, I would be first in line to see them. Drop any notions that you are going to see Alien remade, enjoy the film for what it is – and Prometheus will be rewarding enough on its own. I know: I've seen it twice now.