The ending isn’t squishy scary or deeply satisfying. Bummer. Otherwise, Prometheus – especially in its spellbinding first hour – kicks ass so hard and often that it’s impossible not to be thrilled by it. For starters, the look of the film is an enveloping amazement, with director Ridley Scott using 3D with the fierce finesse of a master. Scott gives us a world to get lost in. Then there’s Michael Fassbender. The Irish-German actor is brilliant as David, an android who’s been modeled after Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia – the blond hair, the posh Brit accent, the blend of mirth and menace that plays on his face.
Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s a plot. Scott, teasing the film’s prequel ties to his 1979 classic Alien, is launching a different kind of galactic voyage. The destination is the planetary moon LV-223 (not LV-426, as it was in the original Alien). Archeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her boyfriend Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are on their way to LV-223 to meet their makers. Prehistoric cave paintings have convinced the two scientists that human life originated there. Conclusions are meant to drawn from the fact that Charlie is a strict Darwinist and Elizabeth wears a crucifix. They’ve persuaded dead tycoon Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce appearing as a hologram smothered in old-age latex and still doing a bang-up job) to finance the trip aboard the spaceship Prometheus (named after the fire-stealing Titan). While Captain Jadek (Idris Elba) and Weyland bosslady Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) spend two years traveling in hyper-sleep with the rest of the crew, David the robot takes control. Shades of Hal 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
We are now entering spoiler territory. My cue to shut up. Still, post-landing and the start of LV-223 tunnel explorations – warning, parasites ahead! – you could argue that David is still in charge. Fassbender is so good, he owns the movie. And Rapace, the original Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, evokes stirring memories of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the first quartet of Alien movies. Rapace has one do-it-yourself medical scene that defines mind-blowing. It’s here that Scott hits the buttons labeled “ick” and “eww” that he perfected with John Hurt’s chestbusting scene in Alien. So even when the script by Jon Spaihts and Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof ties itself in knots trying to be profound, Scott – returning to sci-fi for the first time since 1982’s iconic Blade Runner – shows you what cosmic terror can feel like in the hands of a true visionary. Buckle up.