With the release of Prometheus at midnight last night/this morning, director Ridley Scott is back to doing what he does best, even if he’s not necessarily doing it as well as he ever has. The movie, which has been kind of bogged down in speculation regarding its connection to Scott's Alien films, has a rich mythology and visual style all its own that doesn't rest on the shoulders of the titans that came before (after?) it.
Like Alien and its sequels, Prometheus is a horror movie dressed in the trappings of a science fiction actioner. The movie, which largely revolves around a group of scientists and explorers who to space looking for the meaning of life and don't know what to do once they find it, ends up being a trapped-in-the-dark-with-the-monster type of movie. As such it owes as much stylistically to Pitch Black as it does Alien.
This is, it seems, the Ridley Scott of Blade Runner, world-building with abandon and shooting the movie like nobody’s watching. There’s good that comes with that, and bad, especially now that he’s powerful enough that he doesn’t have to fight the good fight with the guys in the suits like he did while working on that Harrison Ford classic. The result is a movie that's visually stunning and creatively ambitious but sometimes a little self-indulgent.
Scott certainly gets bang for his buck from the talented cast, though; Idris Elba is perfectly cast, and Noomi Rapace as Shaw is a lead character you want to see more from. The weakest spot in the movie is (not unlike comments made by IMDb's Keith Simanton about Snow White and the Huntsman last week) Charlize Theron, whose talent is wasted on a role that seems designed to be as horrible as possible to the other characters while emoting less than most of the computers she surrounds herself with.
Michael Fassbender's David, the android whose "product introduction" was one of the earliest elements of the film's clever viral marketing campaign, shines in the film; he's not the distant and emotionless character you expect, taking obvious affront at insults and slights directed at him by other characters and clearly advancing his own agenda throughout the film, making it pretty clear that Weyland wasn't totally up front with anyone about exactly what they knew, and wanted. He betrays a crew member in an early sequence that doesn't fully pay off until the film's third act, and sets the stage for the sequel that's likely to come along next.
It's possible that my complaints with Theron could be addressed as a strange artistic choice by Scott--that the cold and manipulative Theron, who is essentially impossible to sympathize with for most of the film, could be used to mirror the equally manipulative David, whose warmth and humanity make the ironically non-human character harder to dislike in spite of his actions. But that seems like a stretch.
Ultimately, the film is imperfect, but very good. Fans who go in hoping that they'll be watching Alien 0.5: The Prometheus Chapter will be disappointed, but if you watch the movie and judge it on its own merits, you'll find more than enough to enjoy--and the Alien-related payoff that you do get (there is one, but it's probably not what you expect) will be a value-added bonus.