Review in a Hurry: Director Ridley Scott's (sorta) Alien prequel arrives with much secrecy, a stellar cast, and groundbreaking 3-D visuals. The sense of awesome is high. But the script by Lost mastermind Damon Lindelof unravels, starting out as a compelling "Tree of Life with monsters" to simply just monsters.
Then again, plenty of smarty-pants critics made similar complaints about Alien 33 years ago.
The Bigger Picture: In the year 2093, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her hunky fellow scientist Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) make a discovery, the most significant in human history. Buried in caves throughout earth, are several maps leading to a location in deep space. Who made them? Man's creators? They board the ship Prometheus, off to find the literal meaning of life.
Director Scott hasn't made a sci-fi flick since '82 and that was Blade Runner—so no pressure. Yet his style of intricately detailed ginormous visuals balanced with tiny moments of suspense still impresses. Every lush image is matched with a thoughtfulness rarely seen in summer blockbusters.
The first half of the film is remarkable, as Shaw and the crew explore artifacts on an unknown world. Every step they take mixes clever technology with Big Ideas.
The cast is strong too.
Those familiar with the Alien series knows that each team comes equipped with an android. An early moment with David (Michael Fassbender, superb) watching and mimicking a scene from Lawrence of Arabia is genuinely funny and the right amount of creepy.
Rapace shows real range as Shaw, a complete 180 from her stint as the original Girl With a Dragon Tattoo. The most thrilling—and hard to watch—moment is just her, a machine and some thing...Lt. Ripley would be proud.
Seeing the original flick (or even James Cameron's Aliens sequel or alllll the vs. Predator iterations) isn't mandatory, though there are easter eggs throughout for fans. Egg-like canisters, giant space jockeys and THAT ship.
The problem comes in the last act when the film stops asking big questions and sorta answers them in the most ham-handed way. Lindeloff should have learned from Lost that less is more. Over-explaining ruins the mood. Plus, there's a lack of suspense in the final moments as events start to mirror Alien with an array of gooey creatures. Everything feels a bit silly.
There's much to recommend though. The way the cast clicks—it includes Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and Guy Pearce—feels assured. Steady. Shot in 3-D, the depth of field, looking way off into the distance to a mountain or an cavernous tomb is awe-inducing. You'll want to live in this world.
Hopefully, if Scott's previous ventures into the future are any indication, Prometheus will get better with repeat viewings.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Even if you do go with "just a monster flick" vibe, the monsters are a far cry from the unforgettable xenomorphs that H.R. Giger unleashed for Alien.