If you repeat yourself artistically, is it a rip-off, a self-homage, or just that thing you always do? What if said recycling involves not a style but a story, unveiled identically, plot point by plot point? Those are two questions raised by Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, the undeniable prequel to the director’s cultishly beloved Alien, whose prequelness the director has attempted to keep under deep cover in the lead-up to its release. (It got an overseas opening before hitting the States.)
Anyone who’s seen installments of the Alien series, particularly the first and third, will find Prometheus familiar. The monsters look similar. (Well, they should.) There’s a that-infected-guy-isn’t-coming-back-on-the-ship standoff. There’s a droid, a tenacious female protagonist, and—seriously, Scott?—a pregnancy. I could go on.
But if you’re willing to overlook all these quotations (fleshed out by screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof), Prometheus is as exciting, squirm-inducing, and visually luscious as the 1979 sci-fi/horror classic. The film takes place in 2093 upon the titular spaceship, whose crew spent two years in slumber as it traveled to an unexplored planet based on “star maps” found by Elizabeth Shaw (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’s Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green).
In mythology, Prometheus was a mortal who was punished for stealing fire from the gods. On this expedition, Shaw and Holloway are seeking their God, convinced that whomever (or whatever) they find on this planet were mankind’s creators. Much is made of faith and its collision with science—Shaw wears a cross while believing in a people the pair has dubbed “the engineers.” That what they find is less than hospitable shouldn’t come as a surprise; things go downhill fast.
Rapace is less vicious but just as tough in her American headlining debut as in the franchise that made her famous; her English is perfect and skin luminescent minus the goth makeover. Michael Fassbender is eerily transfixing as the mission’s know-everything android. Other big names make less of an impression: Charlize Theron looks sleek and plays strong as the boss of the ship, but doesn’t have much to do but bitch; Idris Elba is merely sass and comic relief as the ship’s Southern-accented captain; Guy Pearce is a complete question mark in old-man prosthetics as the CEO of the company financing the journey.
But perhaps the best additions to the Alien lore are the staticky ghosts that whiz around the desolate planet, hints of what was and what’s perhaps to come. “Why do they hate us?” a crew member asks. Prometheus doesn’t offer any answers—that’s what the prequel sequel is for.