Reviewer's rating: 6/10
Ridley Scott's much-mooted prequel to his classic, Alien, comes so overloaded with expectation, it seems almost cruel to compare it to his 1979 original: a sci-fi horror hybrid that ultimately rewrote the rule book with both casting and its double genres, while being roundly dismissed at the time of its release.
Scott famously suffered further humiliation when 1982's Blade Runner spectacularly tanked. That cult classic is also due to be revisited on screen in what appears to be an act revenge by Scott at the ripe old age of 74. For, while James Cameron's 1986 sequel, Aliens, went some way in righting the wrong (as did subsequent recuts of Blade Runner), Scott hasn't ventured back into outer space until now.
Odd things begin to occur, both on- and off-screen.
But to more pressing matters - and the good ship Prometheus. We must face a colossal tale both in scope and design. And it's the first time Scott has embraced 3D (rather well, too).
It begins benignly enough, on the Isle of Skye, in scenic north-west Scotland. A mysterious creature drinks from the wilds of a waterfall, then topples - or, rather, shatters - to his untimely death. Years later, a team of archaeologists turns up and stumbles upon ancient carvings nearby, which point to Earth's ancestors.
Our attention focuses on two of them, Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Marshall-Green), as we board a gigantic space ship, the Prometheus, heading for the co-ordinates apparently indicated in the carvings. It's the year 2093 and all its crew are cryogenically frozen for the two-year journey.
Odd things begin to occur, both on- and off-screen. Creationist Dr Shaw is determined to find the origins of the human species (for us, that means the origins of the infamous chest-burster creation that is Alien), while her lover, Holloway, is soon mysteriously poisoned by an alien pod that's been brought on board ship by David: an Aryan-like robot played to perfection by Michael Fassbender, who blends the airs of a 1970s, ''plastic soul''-era Bowie with the movement of George Lucas's C3PO. His performance is, without doubt, the film's highlight.
Fuelling the mission, though, is ailing zillionaire Peter Weyland (a heavily made-up Guy Pearce), who wants to reverse his neutron flow and live long and prosper. His trusty supervisor, an ultra-ice-cold Meredith Vickers (Theron), is on board to ensure that happens. The aforementioned David - and a gung-ho second-in-command, Janek (Elba) - have other ideas.
It is this last point, in fact, that becomes all the more baffling for the viewer during the sometimes rambling trajectory of the narrative: namely, what exactly is Scott trying to achieve with this prequel? With Fassbender's malevolent robot a throwback to Kubrick, as is the wondrous look of this piece (complete with a grand, sometimes overbearing score), there's precious little time for many terrifying sequences until the final act. Here, the film lurches after a series of incoherent bumps towards a more standard sci-fi action finale, its poetic, lyrical mission seemingly fulfilled.
Cast-wise, Rapace stands out alongside Fassbender, her talent for carrying much of the film suggesting hidden depths (this being a world away from her exemplary turn in the original, superior version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Pearce is also typically reliable, if completely unrecognisable. Theron, though, feels largely wasted in a role that's as underwritten as many other characters in Prometheus.
The good news is that the film does (partially, at least) explain where the alien actually came from. And to his credit, Scott has publicly emphasised that this prequel carries with it the DNA of that first Alien film, nothing more. I left wondering what Terrence Malick will make of it all, should he get to see it.
Given the expectation - exacerbated by that cunning viral campaign from the studio - Prometheus seems almost destined to fight an uphill battle.
There is no Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) for us to reunite with here or any single creature of her ilk (although we do have two reasonably tough women.) Neither is there much going on when the team does land on alien ground, a sense of wide-eyed wonder dismissing any notion of unwanted intruder paybacks (which come later, largely via an unbearably icky delivery scene).
For all its grand designs - and broad, epic vistas - Prometheus could simply do with a bit more story. Without more going on - and with characters often feeling little more than quick sketches - the thing rambles and wavers at times, with no firm sense of direction or even purpose.
A mooted follow-up may well fix that. For now, then, it's visually impressive but frustratingly underdeveloped, all the same.
Rated M, 124 minutes, now showing
Stars: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green