Noomi Rapace emerges as the logical emotional heir to Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in this Ridley Scott "prequel" to Alien. Set several decades before the crew of the Nostromo had the beast in their belly, we voyage to the far side of the galaxy with a crew of Earthlings seek the answers to a Paleolithic mystery, and why cave paintings around the globe feature the same planetary cluster and giant humanoids. Though the film suffers from a lack of character development on the edges, the core trio finds the requisite depth to create a micro-cosmos of human emotion, where our redeeming traits are tested against our drive to survive. Smart, gorgeous and dripping with positive nostalgia, Prometheus sets the Alien franchise ablaze once more.
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Green, Rafe Spall, Emun Elliott
Rating: Four stars out of five
The excitement was bubbling like a blister, oozing a warm but also haunting sense of nostalgia. The very idea that Ridley Scott was going back to the hostile landscapes of Alien.
Alien accessed and questioned our very identity as human beings, pushing us to find our redeeming elements in the face of something entirely Other.
It's this tantalizing dynamic of humanity-vs.-Otherness that gives the Alien franchise its raw power, and for this reason, Scott gets immediate credit for picking up the core theme at an embryonic stage in Prometheus.
Kicking things off on our very own planet, Earth, we're introduced to a pair of scientists: Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green). The year is 2083, and they have just stumbled into one of the most interesting cave paintings ever recorded: It shows a giant man pointing to the heavens, where a pattern of orbs looks awfully familiar.
By the time our two scientists, who also happen to be lovers, make their big speech explaining what they've found, they're already on a space ship, and the lecture they offer on cave paintings explains why they're orbiting around an unknown planet halfway across the galaxy.
The competitive academic couple believes the painting they found on Earth mirrors other early hominid art, suggesting there may be a common origin among mankind -- an origin that isn't Earthly, but alien.
Shaw and Holloway believe they can prove their alien-origin theory, and perhaps even explain the earliest drive at religion, by documenting the presence of giant alien beings -- or "Titans" -- elsewhere in the universe.
Gurgling with enthusiasm, as well as ego, the not-so-dynamic duo educates their shipmates about what they might find once they land on the planet. They also insist all weapons are left behind.
Of course, this is a very bad idea. Because we are educated observers, we know there are hostile forces out there, but the Prometheus landing party is a group of wide-eyed seekers full of benevolent faith. It's what makes these innocent galactic "babies" so lovable: They are pure of heart -- mostly.
Injected into the mix are darker forces, including the corporate mogul Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), ship CEO Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and the must-have artificial entity, David (Michael Fassbender).
Alien fans will recognize this collection of characters because even though they are different from the crew of the Nostromo, the ship from the original Alien, they share similar human traits.
Scott created a complex micro-community in space where the defining forces of human nature are given a chance to express themselves, and compete for survival, and he attempts to do the same thing here.
Yet, whether it's a result of the script or the talent, the crew of Prometheus never creates the same chemistry as their cinematic predecessors. Most of the characters feel one-dimensional because they are fastened to one aspect of the human condition.
Whether it's the touchy-feely biologist who thinks the odd-looking eel-like creatures with bulbous, flesh-coloured heads are "female," or the curmudgeonly geologist who wanted to bring the guns, the characters feel more like blunt thematic tools than anything grounded in real emotion.
While this creates the biggest problem in an otherwise smart and stunning blend of visuals and story, it doesn't cause a hull breach in the franchise because the core characters played by Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender are so solid.
Fassbender finds the exact edges of creepy as he becomes the dark side of WALL-E, watching old movies and assimilating the human tics. Theron is sexy, powerful and morally bereft as the greedy corporate force on board, but she also finds human kinks that make her believable.
The bulk of the narrative lifting is done by Rapace, whose ability to play a sympathetic heroine with endless grit makes her the logical heir to Sigourney Weaver's thorny crown.
Rapace brings all the urgency to the frame this movie needed to satisfy fans, as well as Alien neophytes. For the former, Prometheus will be everything it needed to be as it pays homage to the original, and explains the presence of the alien ship and the so-called space jockeys whose fossilized remains are discovered at the top of Alien.
Sure, there will be hardcore fanatics who may feel the movie lacks the same intensity as its predecessors, but for a franchise that started burning up on its re-entry to the multiplex in later years, Prometheus marks a promising new beginning for all things Alien, even if it suggests a rather foreboding end-note for the human race.