I don’t know why “Prometheus” was marketed as “not really a direct Alien prequel” – what else could it be? It’s got an alien in it and it’s set before the other Alien films! If that’s not an Alien prequel then I don’t know what is. And there’s an android who loses his head (I mean his body), and space jockeys (known in this as Engineers, though they don’t know that. They might actually be called Dave, or Sjsfkgjdfuigxodfiguxdofi, on their own planet. Also I guess the Alien not only doesn’t know it’s called Alien, but on its own planet isn’t even an alien. Maybe we humans should think more carefully with our outer space naming strategies, then aliens might stop trying to kill us). Anyway there’s also Weyland Corp (precursor to Weyland-Yutani), and people who know more than they’re letting on. Apart from no Ripley, this film is pretty much Great Grandma Alien. (Oh god I’ve basically told you the whole plot and it’s only paragraph 1. Oh well, remember the website title, people!)
The film starts with a giant grey humanoid Engineer sacrificing himself via an impressively majestic waterfall to kick start life on earth with his DNA. And it ends with a very familiar looking Alien, not identical but clearly of the same Alien family, forcing its way out of another Engineer. A bit like Fin chainsawing his way out of the shark in Sharknado, for those of you who don’t really do art-house cinema.
The Prometheus is a spaceship, and while there is no Ripley there are two – yes TWO, truly we are blessed – key women characters on board! Both kick-ass women, if in very different ways. Icily driven Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) is in overall charge of the project, and is notable mainly for being even less friendly than the Alien. But her single-minded unpleasantness and willingness to sacrifice any team member who may bring back nasties on to the ship / looks a bit funny, by burning them to death, does at least give everyone else a fighting chance of surviving (not that most of them do survive, but you guessed that already didn’t you. I doubt anybody watches an Alien film for that “nobody dies!” group hug at the end).
The other woman is Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), a very religious archeologist who starts off all about our cuddly ancestors looking at the stars and not using any weapons, and ends up performing major abdominal surgery on herself before heading off into the distance with an android head to find the Engineers’ planet, so she can discover why they created then tried destroy mankind (the Engineers do come across as rather me-me-me and petulant. I blame the intergalactic patriarchy).
The ship’s captain Janek is played by Idris Elba, a man whose first priority on coming out of stasis – while tough girl Vickers is doing press ups – is, fabulously, to put up a Christmas tree. David, the android is – as androids ought to be – a highly ambivalent character, though he does redeem himself rather at the end. (David is played superbly by Michael Fassbender, an actor so brilliant I still don’t know what he looks or sounds like in real life.)
Anyway, let me summarise the plot for you. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Ford) and Elizabeth Shaw (both archaeologists) have found evidence across many unconnected societies on earth of benign interventions by a race of very tall humanoids who appear to visit from time to time (a bit like the Green Cross Code Man from the 1970s). Looking at cave paintings they deduce which planet these humanoids – or Engineers – could have come from, and Weyland Corp has agreed to fund a trip to find them on board the spaceship Prometheus. As is usual in a film set on a spaceship that combines an existing hard-arse scientific crew and a couple of storytelling outsiders, there is mistrust on both sides. However when they reach the planet and it becomes clear that the formations they are looking at could only have been constructed rather than created by nature, the crew grudgingly accept the two archaeologists.
Of course they have to go off and investigate – inside they find the air breathable, and use crazy whizzy balls which career through all the tunnels on the structure mapping them as they go, providing Janek, who is still on board, with a clear 3D map of what is there. The team find stone vases filled with a strange gloopy liquid as well as an Engineer who has been decapitated by a closing door. Shaw takes the head back to the ship with her ( well I suppose it makes a change from Lake District fudge or a sombrero when you have to thank whoever’s been feeding your cat while you were away). Kilburn and Fifield, biologist and geologist respectively, foolishly wander off and get lost (dear god it is so frustrating that in Film World no one ever seems to have watched any films), and are informed via radio that they”ll have to stay there overnight as a storm has hit and everyone else has made it back to the ship. The two are then attacked by a snake-like creature – it wriggles into Milburn’s spacesuit and kills him, while Fifield falls head first into the mysterious liquid.
Back on the ship they manage, in one of the freakiest scenes, to animate the Engineer’s head – they also discover that its DNA matches human DNA (I think even I had worked that out by then). David the Android has sneakily smuggled back one of the vases onto the ship (how he got it past Vickers is anyone’s guess. It’s not like people are likely to buy her flowers very often). He puts some of the liquid into Charlie’s drink. Charlie and Elizabeth then have sex and frankly that’s more evidence than you could ever need that this isn’t going to end well.
After going back too the structure on the planet they find Milburn’s body, and David finds another room with a still-living Engineer in stasis, and an incredible 3D map of the star system, including Earth. But poor Charlie is getting more and more unwell. Despite the team rushing him back to Prometheus, he continues to deteriorate and on arrival they’re faced with flame-thrower wielding Vickers who refuses to allow him on board. He begs her to kill him with it and she does. Soon Shaw finds that she’s pregnant but as she knows she’s sterile, this is no time for jubilation (to be fair jubilation is in pretty short supply in any of the Alien films, usually if you show even the teeniest jubilationity you know a facehugger is about to burst forth from your chest and scuttle off into the cooling pipes). The previously rather drippy Shaw now has to steel herself for some major surgery, retrieving a tentacled creature from inside her (at this point you will be shouting “Kill it Shaw! Just kill it!”. But if she did, the whole franchise would end and the original Alien films would no longer exist and would disappear in a squirt of acid).
Weyland, the dying CEO of Weyland Corp, we now discover, is on board too, having had one of those really, really long naps old people love before complaining they can’t get to sleep at night. He wants the Engineers to prevent his death (a massive, massive miscalculation as lovely Captain Idris has worked out that the structure is probably a military installation and the liquid a biological weapons experiment that went wrong. They don’t really seem like beings who are happy-to-help). Unsurprisingly with Weyland in tow on yet another return trip to the structure (next time take a to-do list people, then you only need to make one visit and you can be off. And everybody lives! Group hug please, group hug) the newly awoken Engineer goes nuts, and tries to fire up his spacecraft, in order to reach earth with his biological weapons and destroy the race they created. There follow heroic suicides, cowardly escape attempts, and a satisfyingly evenly-matched Alien-Engineer fight, before Shaw manages to escape with David’s rather chatty head in a manbag.
There are a few irritants in the film. Guy Pearce, star of so many edgy, critically acclaimed films such as Momento but who will actually be forever known as “Mike from Neighbours”, plays Peter Weyland, CEO of Weyland Corporation. He is old, and dying,which allows Pearce to demonstrate his dodderiness acting, and the prosthetics department to showcase their old man make-up. Quite why they cast him I have no idea. Yes he’s an amazing actor, but surely there are loads of elderly actors who would, if not jump at the chance at their age, then at least shuffle slightly in glee at being cast in a small but pivotal role in a huge blockbuster? He doesn’t appear in any scenes as a young man (unless they ended up on the cutting room floor) so it does seem rather like yahboo look-at-me casting. Rapace’s English accent is dreadful, she just sounds Scandinavian so why they didn’t just make her character Scandinavian I don’t know. She doesn’t need to be English and she doesn’t display any sterotypically English behaviour (she doesn’t queue or drink tea AT ANY POINT DURING THIS MOVIE).
“Prometheus”, though it was a financial hit, wasn’t exactly drowning in critical acclaim on its release, though I love it. To me it seems perfectly coherent, but the setting is different enough to keep things interesting and of course there’s that enjoyment of knowing we’re about to have two hours of thrills and kills while the rather dense protagonists still have no idea what they’ve found. (Indeed the archaeologists seem convinced that a species that created humanity must be benign. Ha! have they never read the Old Testament? It’s oh-fuck-I-made-a-mistake-let-me-rain-down-wrath-from-the-heavens pretty much all the way through.) Luckily for me and any other Prometheus fans there is a sequel in the works, due for release in 2017. I’m not entirely sure what what we should call the second instalment in a prequel franchise for an existing franchise of 4 that is also getting a mid-series reboot. So to avoid confusion I’m going to call the upcoming film”Alien Minus 2″.