Anyone going into Prometheus expecting to see the film of the new century will be bitterly disappointed. You’ll end up punching the multiplex doors, throw your half-eaten popcorn around the foyer and vow to hunt down Ridley Scott to get your decade’s worth of incessant expectations. Scott’s return to the science-fiction genre, the ground where he carved his name, has been much-awaited, over-hyped and over-marketed, making everyone seemed so convinced that he’s bringing the new Citizen Kane of sci-fi movies. Prometheus is not, and will never be, a game-changer and shall not achieve the stone-cold classic status of Scott’s seminal Alien, or even James Cameron’s ballsy, blustery sequel Aliens. As far as the world is concerned, the first two Alien films are untouchable (forget the other sequels) and both have gone down to cinema history. But comparing Prometheus to the early Alien films is a folly – we now live in a different topical epoch, much has been laid to ground, a lot has been added to the sci-fi genre, and Sigourney Weaver now stars in films with people like Taylor Lautner. It’s far easier to criticise the work of others and compare new meat with the old tried-and-tested recipe (yes, I’m taking to you Empire, what kind of magazine equates Prometheus and John Carter with a three-star review?) rather than coming up with a fresh concept. Nothing is new in sci-fi cinema, only variations of themes and elements, which leads us to Prometheus, expanding on the Alien universe that Scott defined three decades ago.
If you go into Prometheus expecting fuck-all happens, chances are – you’ll like this movie. It is not without its flaws, some plot threads don’t make sense and it raises questions that would turn your heads into knots, but it has vaulting ambitions and it dared reaching for it whereas many commercial films fall flat on arrival, comatose and braindead. Where primal terror in space occupied most of Alien and war against an unknown enemy beset Aliens, Prometheus head-butts existential, psychological sci-fi without apologies (but I defy going into details as I’m no Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian, who pretty much ruined the film for everyone by outlining the plot in his review). Viewed as a standalone film, there are glimpses of ingenuity here, set-pieces that are breathtakingly and breathlessly executed, including a standout scene that will go down as one of Ridley Scott’s finest moments – a gut-wrenching, knuckle-whitening, balls-shrivelling Major Sequence in a medi-pod that packs a heady cocktail of claustrophobia, panic and terror, making it one of the finest horror scenes in the last few years. Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw has none of the gung-ho firebrand of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley – but Rapace nails her very own ground and provides intensity and physicality to an otherwise rote Scientist Number One role. In my books, this iconic scene will linger with us for a while.
Also stealing the show is Michael Fassbender, channelling David Bowie and Peter O’Toole as the suave, Machiavellian android David, perfecting a smooth swagger and injecting a much-needed complexity to the voyage. His performance here is easily singled out as the most elaborate, carefully calculated high-wire act of them all, and Fassbender makes it all look like a breeze. There’s also Charlize Theron who rises above a round of stock characters, who mostly get despatched halfway through the film, playing the frigid corporate stooge Meredith Vickers, hellbent in keeping the ship’s protocols. The rest are quite forgettable, but then again – so were many characters in both Alien and Aliens, only serving as genre staples. Nonetheless, Prometheus is perhaps a better film in retrospect, like its predecessors, or even like its existential kin Blade Runner (let’s be reminded that Blade Runner was panned during its initial release, and now have entered the pantheon as sci-fi’s greatest assets). It’s far from a disappointment, as many believe. There are bleakly beautiful shots, and thrilling sequences that will have you gasping for air. Like the titan punished by the gods for bringing fire to mankind, Prometheus is a perfect metaphor for Ridley Scott’s happenstance – many criticises him for making a film like this when in fact, he attempts to bring intelligent sci-fi back to our screen again.
It’s no masterpiece – but there is grandeur in its execution and vaulting scope that could make other sci-fi genre pretenders break a sweat. Sure, it’s flawed, but so were the first two Alien films. Prometheus will not change the sci-fi landscape, but it’s a welcome addition to the existential sci-fi horror cinema. Nothing will quite prepare you to the year’s most gut-wrenching scene so far.