In 1979, the crew of the space vessel Nostromo came upon a shipwreck, in whose cockpit sat the fossilized corpse of a giant man with his guts blown inside out. What was that all about, the crew briefly wondered, until one of them had his own guts blown out and there was their monstrous answer, along with the start of a long-standing if similarly self-eviscerating science-fiction franchise.
So everybody got distracted, and nobody ever bothered to inquire about the identity of the big guy in the cockpit. But now the crew of the space vessel Prometheus has a chance to look into that, and to append the franchise with a new beginning. What does it mean that their ship is named for a titan who got himself gutted for doing humanity a big favor once? Nothing, really, except an assurance that we are again among the greatest of the epic belly-bursters.
The director is Ridley Scott, who more or less invented the modern sci-fi horror genre with that first Alien film, and has now warmed it over with Prometheus for no apparent reason other than the privilege of stealing back his own fire. Scott’s reclamation, expectedly engorged with pomposity and meticulous production values, seems necessary only because after so much hype it now just needs to be done with. And maybe you could also say it revisits an age-old cosmological conundrum, asking: “Will slick design one day be able to make up for a lack of soul?”
Sure, there’s a firmly commanded style, and a technically impressive equilibrium between the sleekly gadgety and the grotesquely suppurating, but so what? Before long it’s hard to tell between specific familiar franchise bits and general genre clichés, or to want to. Screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof somehow turn a surplus of expositon into a shortage of clarity. There’s a lot of spelling out that amounts to muddled nonsense.
Did you actually want to know about the characters? One of them, played by Noomi Rapace, is supposed to be a researcher who must reconcile her religious beliefs with perplexing evidence of humankind’s cosmic origins. When that fails, mostly because the movie can’t sustain its pretended interest, she must instead reconcile the regressive mandate to pose in gauzy underwear with a more urgent and comparatively progressive gynecological proactiveness. (You’ll see.) Meanwhile Michael Fassbender, as the inscrutable onboard android, gives a conspicuous homage to Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, a lofty model of cool masochism.
Everyone else is expendable, but not always in a grimly satisfying way. And that goes for the aliens too. It turns out the first movie was right to not bother inquiring as to the identity of the big guy in the cockpit. So maybe you’ve got to hand it to Scott for engineering this decades-deferred anticlimax with such straight-faced panache. So, how about a sequel?