They say when you set out to do something, you should know what you are intending to achieve with it. When Ridley Scott began work on Prometheus, it was as a prequel to the Alien franchise, but then the muddled announcement came out that it was only vaguely connected. But, make no mistake, this IS an Alien prequel, but the confusion over what it’s meant to be means that it fails to be anything particularly worthwhile.
The idea of Scott returning to the franchise he kickstarted all those years ago was an enticing one, and there are plenty of great moments. Stylistically, it’s a world apart from the dreadful Alien vs Predator films, and it certainly seems to have plenty of high ambitions. But the only ambition that should matter for it is that it should add something to the mythology of the series, and that’s what it seems to set out to do, telling the story of humanity searching for the alien species that created us and finding only death, destruction and a load of unanswered questions.
It’s the unanswered questions that bug the most, because Prometheus offers a lot but actually delivers only confusion. At the start, we see one of these alien ‘engineers’ drink a mysterious black liquid, literally fall apart and tumble into a waterfall (presumably on Earth) with his cells breaking down to form human DNA. But why? What was the liquid? Why did he seemingly sacrifice himself to create life, wasn’t there a better way? The film’s ‘big revelation’ is that these engineers seemingly decided that we were a bit rubbish and set out to kill us all, only to have their creations kill them instead. But why?
The film ends with Noomi Rapace’s scientist flying off in one of their ships looking for answers, which isn’t that far removed from where we started, and you have to wonder what the point of asking the question is when the answer is only likely to involve death. Just before the end, Michael Fassbender’s robot David asks why the question needs to be asked, when the answer is surely irrelevant, and he’s got a very good point there. What answers could a next film deliver that would make it (and this) worthwhile and add anything to Alien in the process?
The really frustrating thing about Prometheus is that there’s so much of it that works. Rapace is a likeable and believable lead character, Fassbender is creepy as David, while Charlize Theron and Idris Elba do well with limited roles. There’s some really tense and horrific moments, including a caesarian section scene that is about the most intense scene I’ve ever seen at the cinema, and it all looks really good (although the 3D adds virtually nothing). But because it can’t decide whether to be a thought-provoking sci-fi film about faith or an Alien film where lots of people get attacked by weird monsters, it doesn’t satisfy on either level.
What it ends up being is a virtual retread of that original Alien movie, with Rapace’s ballsy Dr Shaw basically being Ripley and Fassbender being Ian Holm’s robot, but without the pretense of being human or even the surprise twist that he’s working to a different agenda than everyone else. It’s full of references to the first two films in the series, right down to lines like ‘We are LEAVING’, but yet is trying so hard to be something else. What it ends up being is a nice-looking mish-mash of a film that doesn’t work on its own merits and doesn’t add anything at all to the Alien films. So, on every level, it fails.