We as fans of cinema live in a strange and sad time; specifically a world where the once mighty Ridley Scott's output is less favorable than the hyperactive, stylized schlock of his brother Tony and to cap it all off, a video game, "Max Payne 3," manages to deliver a better Tony Scott-esque production than the man himself. The arrival of Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" a spiritual prequel to his monumental 1979 film "Alien," comes after months of viral buildup and earnest buzz from franchise fans and sci-fi aficionados alike; after a series of dismal misfires beginning with "A Good Year," Scott has been on a downward spiral for over half a decade and on paper, "Prometheus" should have been the return of a mighty titan bringing a unique and compelling vision to jaded viewers. Unlike the Prometheus of myth, Scott's gift of fire is, to borrow a tired cliché (but wholly fitting given the quality of the product), a flash in the pan.
The problems with "Prometheus" are too many to address succinctly and in many cases impossible to discuss without spoiling the "story" penned by Jon Spaihts (the writer behind the quickly forgotten "Darkest Hour") and Damon Lindelof, one of the creative minds behind "LOST," who reveals to the world here, he is little more than a one-note joke, incapable of crafting any sort of closure to a story, let alone a compelling narrative to begin with. The script's proclivities to introduce moments of awe for no other reason than to give Scott a visual to build, makes one long for the tired twist-ending of fellow hack M. Night Shyamalan. "Prometheus" is built around a simple concept: two scientists Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Holloway (Logan Marshal-Green) uncover a map to the stars in a pointless first act scene, that quickly cuts to the end of a two-year journey to the final destination of LV-223 ("Alien" fans, the LV-223 and LV-426 issue is baffling to me and either "logical" explanation is only derived through inference), the supposed location of the "architects" of humanity.
The screenplay's meandering pointless nature sends up a warning beacon when an expository meeting of the ship's crew reveals to the audience only a few characters matter, the rest are disposable fodder. As the crew of the Prometheus (the ship carryng the passengers to the possible birthplace of life) explores LV-223 and encounters familiar elements from Scott's "Alien," "Prometheus" finally falls apart and from there feebly drags itself to a shoulder-shrugging and head-scratching non-ending, likely from the mind of Lindelof. Lindelof nor Spaihts are guilty on their own; no, the true criminal of "Prometheus" is Scott himself who with one big-budget non-event, solidifies his own irrelevancy and sends a chill down the spine of any moviegoer who has heard rumors of his plans for "Blade Runner" sequel. Scott's direction is sterile and lifeless, he can barely contain himself as he prematurely spoils the few (obvious) surprises "Prometheus" has to offer. There is zero tension to "Prometheus" even as poorly designed creatures (from the "creative" mind behind the creatures in "Cloverfield" and "Super 8") briefly menace a few pieces of character fodder.
Visually "Prometheus" is competent and Scott does show a primal technical prowess, masterfully utilizing 3D in the way it should be used, but that's the only glimmer of a once mighty master. The film's highly touted scene of body horror involving Rapace's character is intense only because Marc Streitenfield's tacky bombastic score tells us it is; the end result of the sequence is marred by shoddy CGI and a completely illogical character move. At that point it is not surprising as the characters are cheap cutouts, devoid of any real personality. Rapace is a shell of the actress she was in her breakout role as Lisbeth Salander in the original Stiegg Larsson films, while Charlize Theron as the mission commander, Vickers and Idris Elba as the ship's captain have some fun with their characters, the latter in particular adopting an absurd Southern accent and hamming it up. And then there is the film's sole bright spot, Michael Fassbender.
If not for Fassbender's wholly amazing performance as David, the ship's android caretaker, "Prometheus" wouldn't be worth the light it's projected by. David is an astonishingly complex character and one whose true motives are never clear, even through the film's final act. Fassbender stretches far beyond the few shreds of character development handed to him, to bring a dignity to a character abused one minute by his crass companions and depended on for life-and-death circumstances moments later. David doesn't escape unscathed though, with a brilliant set-up for a truly powerful callback to a line from his first moments, utterly squandered in his final moments on screen. Fassbender's performance will be the sole element of this film fondly remembered years later and rightfully Scott nor anyone else involved deserved the quality performance he delivered.
Despite the technical spectacle and truly stunning use of 3D on-screen, "Prometheus" can't be recommended in good faith as a premiere theatrical experience. It's only Fassbender's outing as David that makes this miserable excuse for entertainment worth viewing in the first place; wait until this quickly makes it to a second-run cinema or the eventual Blu-Ray release. In the meantime, try a triple feature at home of the extended cut of "Alien 3," "Lawrence of Arabia," and "Shame." Should you eventually see "Prometheus" that seemingly random assortment of films will make perfect sense. And if you're an old-school gamer, try and seek out a copy of "The Dig," it tread similar ground nearly two-decades ago and much more successfully.