As a lose prequel/origin story for the Alien series, Prometheus is a smashing success. Director Ridley Scott returned to this universe with the intention of exploring its origins after helping to conceive and create it way back in 1979. Mostly, he achieved that goal. More importantly, he carried forward (or is it back?) the delicate, artful balancing act between the science fiction and the raw, menacing horror that made Scott's initial entry in the series, Alien, such a classic. In that sense, Prometheus, as I've hinted in the headline, is a terrific summer blockbuster, so long as you're planning to leave the squeamish and/or the underaged behind.
Prometheus is set in the not-too-distant future -- 2089, to be exact -- some 30 years prior to Ripley's first brush with the series' titular monster. After two archaeologists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), discover strikingly similar maps across a number of drastically different excavated sites on Earth, they, along with a collection of scientists, crew and business stakeholders from the Weyland Corporation are whisked off to the moon LV-223 on a space ship that gives the film its name. There, they are expected to find the "Engineers" -- the alien race that painted those maps in caves throughout the globe and may have been responsible for the dawn of humanity itself.
The voyage to LV-223 itself takes four years, with only David, the robot servant of Peter Weyland, the Weyland Corporation's founder and chief executive officer, not in stasis -- a state with which any fan of the original Alien should be familiar. The haunting android is played by Michael Fassbender, whose star should only continue to rise after his performance in this film. David quotes Lawrence of Arabia, the movie he watches (presumably repeatedly) while the rest of the ship's crew is in a years-long slumber, liberally, but he is also clearly inspired by HAL 9000, the homicidal computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and, maybe to a lesser degree, by the replicants in another Scott classic, 1982's Blade Runner. From the get-go, you'll sense something creepy and off about David -- traits which seem to suit Fassbender wonderfully at this point -- and it doesn't take long for that inkling to be fully realized.
Upon landing, Shaw and Holloway, with an exploration team that includes David and much of the rest of the crew, searches for and finds what seems to be one of the "Engineers", long dead, in a labyrinthine cave along with scores of capsules containing a mysterious dark liquid. David, still very off and still working with unclear intentions, gets the snowball rolling downhill by furtively splashing the dark liquid in Holloway's drink when they return to Prometheus. That leaves Holloway infected with an alien virus that is apparently a bioweapon originally intended to be used against humans, Shaw, who is supposed to be barren and is romantically involved with Holloway, pregnant with an alien spawn and the whole crew of the ship in a boatload of trouble.
The gooey, splatter-filled bloodbath that ensues begins with Holloway and intensifies from there, cresting when Shaw is forced to get the alien spawn out of her by any means necessary -- in this case a high-tech automated surgery table. It makes for, in my estimation, the most tense and thrilling moment in a film that features many both before and after the scene. Along the way, you also learn that David is working for Weyland (Guy Pearce), thought to be dead by the crew but in fact on the ship with them, and that the "Engineers" are neither deceased, nor have they forgotten about their plans to wipe out humanity.
We might have to wait for a sequel to find out what ultimately happened with the "Engineers" and the new breed of alien spawned at the end of Prometheus, seemingly ready-made to take on Ripley and the rest of the crew of the Nostromo a few years down the road. It's a prospect I'd certainly welcome, particularly if Fassbender reprises his role as David.
Prometheus was confusing at times. I'm still not sure I understand the entirety of the opening sequence, in which an "Engineer" consumes the deadly dark liquid himself and tumbles into a waterfall dying, and it took almost the whole film for the friend I was with to grasp that it was truly an Alien prequel. I also didn't care for the performances turned in by Rapace and Marshall-Green, both relative newcomers unless you count the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or a nine-episode arc on The OC, respectively, or for the comically bad makeup placed on Pearce to make him appear as ancient as Weyland is supposed to be.
When I wasn't confused, though, which was the case the majority of the time, I was riveted by that delicate balancing of sci-fi and horror and by the performances of much of the supporting cast. Fassbender was not alone in living up to his reputation; Charlize Theron was terrific as Meredith Vickers, Weyland's daughter and the humorless suit on board, while Idris Elba's turn as gritty ship captain Janek was memorable as well.
Prometheus was not particularly memorable. It certainly isn't the type of movie that will keep your mind racing for days after, though it does try to tackle some big philosophical questions related to religion and the origins of humanity. Not many films have that sort of days-long impact. The important point is that they don't have to in order to be worth a $14.50 ticket and a two-hour respite from the heat.