Prometheus was a mythical titan who dared to share the power of the gods with mankind, and was punished violently for his hubris. The spaceship Prometheus in Ridley Scott’s new interstellar adventure also strives to bring humanity closer to our “makers,” and the ship’s crew suffers a similarly harsh penalty for such unchecked curiosity. But while the thematic kernel of this iconic Greek myth gets the audience positively tingly with its potential, Prometheus begins to disintegrate like a dying star by only the third scene. I know. I was really bummed too.
Let me give you some good news. The film opens well, with gorgeous roving shots of an isolated planet that lead into an enigmatic scene in which one of its inhabitants imbibes some kind of toxic black goo. All right: curiosity duly piqued! We’re then introduced to Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), lovers and fellow archeologists in the year 2089. Shaw and Holloway have discovered that a similar pattern of stars seems to crop up over and over in ancient artwork. The contrast between ancient prophecy and the glittering, futuristic world of the film is stunning, and audience enthusiasm is heightened further with the next scene’s introduction of the cyborg David, played by the unfathomably handsome Michael Fassbender. David wanders around Prometheus, watching movies, checking on the crew in their cryogenic sleeping tubes, and generally behaving like a contented little robot. But when the ship reaches its destination, the crew’s human members awaken, and so do the film’s problems.
First of all, the crew seems to have never met one another before, and most of them don’t even know the objective of the Prometheus mission. They need to have it explained to them, and even then, the objectives of Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and those of Shaw and Holloway are vague and apparently unrelated. Call me crazy, but if I volunteered for a two-year interstellar voyage, I’d probably ask what it was for. I’d also at least learn the names of my fellow crewmates, especially when there are less than a dozen of them. Instead, most of the Prometheus crew didn’t even know whose spaceship they were on.
The mission only gets more haphazard once Captain Janek (Idris Elba) lands next to a creepy space pyramid, and everyone goes exploring even though there are only six hours of daylight left and a giant storm is brewing. Despite constant radio contact and GPS imaging, two members of the group somehow get lost, one of whom is a randomly abrasive and tattooed geologist (Sean Harris) who seems completely uninterested in rocks. Did I miss something about the anti-social temperament of geologists? Despite the ship’s capability of monitoring the positions of these two lost members as well as the positions of the unidentified life forms in the pyramid, nobody dies. Janek basically just tells them, “good luck spending the night in that space pyramid” and calls it a day. Bad things happen to them. Duh-doi.
Despite the plot’s rapid decay into a cliché doggy pile with “twists” that only raise more questions, Prometheus remains visually spectacular throughout, with intricate holographic images and dazzling technological equipment. There are also occasional flashes of insight regarding the original thematic setup, which made me mourn the film’s unclaimed potential. Such insights usually involve David, by far the most spellbinding of the crew, though even his actions are as nonsensical as the rest of the characters.
Still, in one of the film’s few standout scenes, David asks Holloway why he thinks humans engineered him, and Holloway replies, “Because we could.” David counters, “Can you imagine how disappointing it would be to hear the same thing?” This one short exchange succeeds where so much of the movie falls short, articulating the problem with challenging higher beings with no thought to the consequences (a lesson still somehow not learned at the end, by the way). Holloway laughs, and tells David that it’s a good thing cyborgs can’t feel disappointment. Watching Prometheus made me wish I had the same luck.