In an earlier post that previewed this year's movies, I mentioned that I should see Prometheus since Alien: Covenant is due out later this year, and I generally like Ridley Scott, and I generally like sci-fi. Last time Scott and sci-fi were together, we got The Martian, one of the best movies of that year, and possibly one of the best space-centric movies ever.
Prometheus could not be more opposite of The Martian. It is exactly the sort of movie that structures all of its dialogue and actions around achieving specific ends, rather than telling a story, playing out like a checklist of what not to do, while sacrificing all the elements of a good story on the altar of its own self-importance.
Most movies that turn suspense or horror have that a painfully obvious moment where someone does something stupid to set in motion the events of the story. In Prometheus, that moment is every minute of the whole movie. Somehow someway, this big-budget prequel to the heralded Alien franchise manages to commit every single plot-driving bad decision conceivable. For that reason, this entire post is going to be an enjoyable hack job for me, providing that genuine satisfaction that can only come from a dose of mordant scathing.
Oh but where to begin?
To start, chew on this: paradoxically fantasy-driven scientists, who somehow convince an optimistic billionaire to fund a space mission based on the hard evidence of ...cave drawings. Seriously. They have faith that these cave drawings mean that they were invited by their creators (presumably the self-destructive albino in the opening) to come and seek them out. So, with overwhelming naiveté and stubborn resolve, they set out to find their creators, confident of being welcomed with open arms as to a long-lost grandparent. One of these scientists is the odd mix of dreamy, religious, and scientific. The other is a total jerk. Come to think of it, there's really no one to like in this crew. They're all either flat cut-outs of every stock character ever imagined, expendable idiots, or both. Even Charlize Theron is about as uninteresting as they come, being too cliché to even be a credible ice queen (which is saying something considering her history with that kind of role). She also has no real purpose other than to put a famous face in the film. The rest of the ragtag crew beg the audience to wonder how these people held employment anywhere, let alone as the leading minds of engineering, GPS mapping, or anything else. There's no one here to like, no one here to genuinely hate, just a few you're not all that sorry to see go, and a few that seem like they deserved better.
Now credit where credit is due, there is exactly one interesting character in this installment, but that character is the android David, played with chilling but effective indifference by Michael Fassbender. But isn't it really pathetic that the only character who is remotely interesting isn't even human? And when I say interesting, I don't mean that he's likable-- simply that he's actually interesting. Between my incredulous scoffs at everyone else's actions, the only thing that really held my attention throughout Prometheus was wondering what David was up to. Sadly for me, his motives are never explained, and ultimately his actions are just as nonsensical as every other character. At times he seems to have a childlike wonder at exploring the questions of creation and existence, reverts to subservient machine, and inexplicably commits acts of unadulterated malice shortly after committing acts of heroism. Prometheus may want to depict David coming into self-awareness, but instead the entire effort comes off as careless.
Back to these "scientists", what are they exactly? They seem to have a fairly broad knowledge of archaeology, geology, biology, physics, art, religion, culture, and just about everything else, yet somehow lack the general intuition to apply any of these things reasonably. They are simply dense by any standard, blithely wandering into alien structures, poking at everything, touching everything, sometimes pushing buttons, and worst of all: bringing organic alien matter aboard their ship to poke at even more. The two leading scientists who initiated this whole mission (the same two who based the mission on cave drawings) have no real grasp of archaeology, and go into a frenzied panic when the preserved items exposed to atmospheric change start to decay rapidly. When you remove something from a freezer, it starts to thaw; they don't understand this.
Every single decision shown onscreen is designed to enhance the plot, whether or not it's consistent with the character or the situation. Most of the dialogue seems painfully forced and often out of place, while characters constantly contradict what little development they’ve had. Example, two characters decide to abandon the survey team when they encounter a pile of extraterrestrial corpses that have clearly been decaying for quite some time. A few moments later however, one of these two expresses absolute infatuation with a live snake-like alien creature that behaves in a clearly malicious way. Dr. Shaw's whole purpose is to meet the Engineers, humankind's creators, but even after acknowledging that they are not who she thought they were, and witnessing the carnage caused by them, she obstinately decides to seek them out even further so she can ask them why they want to obliterate humans. There is a glaringly obvious flaw in this plan, but that’s where the movie ends.
I could go on and on picking apart every last flaw of this movie, but since that would probably take about as long as the movie’s runtime, ergo a colossal waste of time, I can be satisfied with covering the basics. Suffice to say that this movie is a prime example of overdone heavy expositional dialogue, plot devices, gratuitous use of sci-fi tropes, and plot holes so large, they harpoon not only this movie, but others within the franchise. At the end of the day, Prometheus retells the same story we've already seen a number of times before: somewhere in space, an odd crew bring alien matter on board their ship, and pretty much everyone dies. Prometheus had great potential as an origin story, but wastes it all with constipated storytelling and laboring to lay the groundwork for Alien: Covenant, which will probably in turn tell that story again.