Allegedly the original title for Prometheus was simply too telling. It gave away the entire story.

Apparently someone there at Fox didn’t bone up on their Greek mythology because the new title is just as illuminating. This is a film about mankind seeking out those that gave them the fruits of knowledge. Seeking their Prometheus. Their Eve. A benevolent creature who gave humanity the leg up it needed to be sentient and to survive.

And man, what a concept! Science fiction mixed with philosophy and religion and a smattering of anthropology? That’s the kind of intellectual project we all hope to see on the big screen in the summer time. Unfortunately Prometheus is more concerned with visuals and big explosive moments than it is with an actual exploration of the nature of faith and what could have been one of the best science fiction films of the last decade instead ends up being a shadow of excellence.

It’s a frustrating film precisely because it comes so close to excellence. Sitting in the theater I felt like a dance mom watching my kid wave at me from up on stage. Yeah I’m delighted she’s up there, and she looks great, but she could be dancing–I’ve seen her do it well–and instead she’s peering out into the darkness in search of connection and praise.

Just. Come on man. You can do better! (And now we all know I will be a demanding and terrible mother. You’re welcome.)

Perhaps it’s because I saw the abysmal Snow White and the Huntsman directly afterwards but at least this film has a fantastic cast putting in fantastic performances. I can almost forgive the major failings of plot and theme. Charlize Theron and Idris Elba share an easy if antagonistic chemistry. He’s the laconic space captain with an accent so thick it could hold up a spoon and she’s the manager of the mission and so uptight you’d suspect that same spoon was shoved up her wahoo. They share few scenes but there are just enough to whet the appetite and leave you longing for a really smart romantic drama or comedy featuring these two actors. Can you imagine it? I’m salivating at the idea.

No, they're really that good.

Theron in particular stands out. You’ll remember her character was last played by either Paul Reiser or Giovanni Ribisi, but unlike those callous and slimy corporate stooges she’s actually insanely competent. So competent that she seems to seethe with jealousy. It ekes out of her pores and inundates every scene she’s in and fashions a thoroughly unlikeable character into someone we can sympathize with and perhaps even empathize with.

And she’s illustrative of the characters as a whole. There is no cut and dry villain of this piece (until the last act when everything goes off the rails and you sigh in disappointment). The actors bring nuance to their characters. They make jerks likeable and ostensible heroes unlikeable. The film isn’t afraid to build these characters up and let them bounce off one another and the early scenes, where they do just that, are the best of the entire film.

In particular it’s the scenes between Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green. Fassbender is David, the resident android who has spent the last few years studying language and watching over the sleeping crew. Rapace and Marshall-Green are the hip young anthropologists who’ve discovered, perhaps, the secret of sentient life and managed to convince a Guy Pearce slathered in old age make up to pay for their trip to the stars. There’s a hint of a perverse love triangle in their interactions. The android possesses no soul and can experience no true emotion so how can he possibly be attracted to a woman?

Yet there are brief little moments. Tiny scenes that illustrate the impossibly genuine inner workings of a sentient being that is incapable of emotion or empathy. It’s another performance that solidifies Fassbender as one of the best actors of a certain age working today. He finds emotion in restraint and catharsis in a smile and it’s beautiful to behold.

Poor Rapace has a more thankless task. She must carry the entire final act on her shoulders. She’s good. No, she’s a great actress. She possesses that rare quality (and one possessed by Theron, Elba and Fassbender as well). She’s just…watchable. Even in that final act that is pure awfulness. It’s big and garish and rote. It’s like the film is a tidily made bed. Appealing in its perfection and then someone comes along and jumps all over it and shits on it and leaves Noomi Rapace to try to fix it. She spends thirty minutes tucking in the sheets and smoothing out the covers but it’s never the same. Someone’s still shit the bed.

As the film ended I was left thoroughly unsatisfied. But I was also left with a longing desire. To see Noomi Rapace allowed to cut loose in a really fantastic action film (she possesses an arresting physicality). To see Charlize Theron and Idris Elba play a romantic couple. To see Michael Fassbender in some perfect fusion of Asimov and Kubrick.

That’s the problem. Prometheus promised so much. It promised us fire and gave us the best kind of kindling. But in the end it couldn’t give us a spark.

Notes

  • If someone wants to let me know why Guy Pearce appears in the context he does I’d love to know. It was really alarming and pretty dang distracting. Was Christopher Plummer unavailable?
  • There is a laugh out loud moment involving a machine if you’re a lady. Because of course institutional sexism still exists in a future where we travel to other planets.
  • Damon Lindelof is getting a LOT of flack as he was asked to rewrite the original script by Jon Spaihts. But Ridley Scott was also involved in those rewrites and he gave us that Robin Hood movie so lets be careful where we place the blame.
  • That being said, Scott shot a simply gorgeous film full of iconic images and he used the 3d in a very natural and unobtrusive way.
  • The post credits teaser is actually before the credits and might be one of the biggest mistakes ever.
  • Mollie Muse

    There was a post-credits teaser? My husband and I sat there for a while, then decided to go ahead and go. Should we have stayed?

    I liked the movie. It seems like they ran out of time and forgot to develop motivations for the Engineers, so I don’t really understand that whole part of the story, but maybe they will flesh it out in the sequel? 

    • It wasn’t as post-credits teaser in that it was the last scene before the credits but it definitely felt like a post-credits teaser.

      And I might harp on it but I really loved it. To the point I’d like to see it again. I’m just frustrated by how close it came to excellence and how it just barely seemed to miss the mark.

      • Mollie Muse

        OK, I get that. I’m a little defensive because I have friends citing specific “plot holes” that are really stuff they just missed.

        I heard the director’s cut will be released on DVD in October (I’m not positive – I haven’t cross referenced it), and it will be 30 minutes longer. I wonder if another 30 minutes could clean-up that second half.

        I actually want to see it again, too. Partly because I really liked it, partly because we went for 2D (3D is, in general, a gimmick that doesn’t really provide pay off), but we kind of regretted the choice of 2D on this one.

  • Michael McNally

    Regarding the surgery machine, if that’s what you’re referring to as a laugh-out-loud moment for women. That one actually made sense, believe it or not. Hint: it wasn’t to be used by any of the crew.

    • Mollie Muse

      Yeah, that’s how I interpreted it. When it first indicated it was a male-only med pod, I thought, “there’s a reason for that configuration, and we’ll probably find out why later.” Which we did.