Prometheus (2012)

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall, Benedict Wong, Kate Dickie

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Logan Marshall-Green, Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender in Prometheus

First things first: I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I was on the edge of my seat most of the way through and it looked absolutely phenomenal – so good, in fact, that I almost wished I’d seen it in (boo, hiss) 3D. Inconceivable!

But… well, yeah, there is a but. Several, in fact.

The year is 2089. Dr Elizabeth Shaw (surely the first sci-fi heroine in film history to be named after a chocolate mint) and Dr Charles Holloway (Noomi Rapace and Dark Blue’s Logan Marshall-Green) are impossibly cool archaeologists who’ve discovered a recurring galactic message in primitive artwork from around the world. Fast-forward four years (two of them spent in cryo-sleep) and we’re on board the spaceship Prometheus, destination genesis, the planet of our ancestors. Or so our archaeologists ‘believe’, and on the strength of this belief have obtained finance for the voyage from billionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, looking like the Duke of Edinburgh under six tonnes of prosthetic slap. Question: why not cast a real old man in the role? Christopher Lee would have done it for a pie and a pint…)

Charlize Theron and Idris Elba in Prometheus

Commanded by ice maiden Meredith Vickers (a somewhat underused Charlize Theron), captained by gungho maverick Janek (Idris Elba) and assisted by Nietzschean blonde robot David (a killer performance from the ubiquitous Michael Fassbender), the ship’s mission is to make first contact.

Of course, the welcome mat isn’t exactly laid out for them. Bumping to a halt at the first ‘man’-made structure they spy, the motley crew of scientists and expendable security dudes set out to meet their makers – and instantly find themselves on Planet Giger, all black twisted iron architecture and oozing goo. So far so thrilling: the origins of one of the greatest monster movies ever made, revealed.

But (yes, here come the ‘buts’), while Alien was certainly ground-breaking, a brilliant, terrifying, claustrophobic film that worms its way into the brain as perniciously as any facehugger, it never pretends to be anything more than a really scary adventure about a really nasty creature. Prometheus, on the other hand, threatens to sink under the weight of its own pretensions, as characters struggle fruitlessly with questions of faith, evolution and the afterlife with the laughable seriousness of debating public school boys. Nobody asked the Alien franchise to solve the mysteries of existence – just give us more gory deaths and a jaw-dropping final showdown.

Things go pear-shaped on board Prometheus

Extra-terrestrial ancestors are one thing, however: then there are the seriously daft things we’re expected to swallow. Like how someone can have major abdominal surgery one minute, and abseil down the side of a spaceship the next; why, when someone is being chased by a giant, rolling, donut-shaped UFO, they would keep running in front of it instead of dodging to the side; and why, indeed, any of the characters do, er, pretty much anything they do – including signing up for this suicidal mission in the first place. In fact, the more you think about it, the more ludicrous the script and story become, with plot holes gaping wide enough to drive a spaceship through. Frustrating when the film looks so utterly amazing.

Like the original Alien movies, Prometheus is dripping with psychosexual symbolism and themes: pulsating, fanged orifices ooze viscous liquids; slimy tentacles penetrate and choke. But again, the point is somewhat laboured: Dr Shaw cannot have children, but conceives a baby squid; Vickers is so glacial that the crew suspect her of being a robot, while Weyland compensates for his lack of a son by creating a robot in his own image. Freud would have a field day.

Bogged down in its own mythology and mired in an often ridiculous script, Prometheus is not the instant Hollywood legend it so badly wants to be. The spectres of Matrix Reloaded and Indiana Jones 4 are definitely lurking in the shadows. But that said, Ridley Scott drives the action forward with such assured showmanship that it’s hard not to enjoy the film – possibly even in 3D. Now there’s an alien concept…

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