Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" follows a team of scientists as they explore a faraway planet in search of the origins of human existence and the conclusive proof of alien life in the universe. At this point in the summer, their curiosity is entirely understandable. Between "The Avengers," "Battleship," and "Men in Black 3," aliens have completely taken over the 2012 summer movie season. Where did all these critters come from? On a metatextual level, the answer is largely Scott's own 1979 film "Alien," one of the most beloved and often imitated sci-fi movies of all time. "Prometheus" is, in some ways, a prequel to "Alien," which makes its quest for an origin an effective metaphor for itself.
But you don't care about that, do you? You just care about whether the movie's any good or not. You've been waiting for Ridley Scott to make another science-fiction movie for 30 years (he last visited the genre in 1982's "Blade Runner") and you're sick of being patient. So let's cut to the chase: as the first wave of reviews trickle out ahead of the film's European premiere -- and the first tweets trickle out of the film's press junket -- there appears to be plenty of cause for excitement, as well as some cause for tempered expectations. Early word suggests "Prometheus" is a worthy new entry in the larger "Alien" canon, but that it has some issues too.
The most positive critique so far comes from Mark Adams at Screen International, who writes that Scott's movie "fits perfectly with the genre" and should "thrill, challenge and provoke audiences." Regardless of the film's connections to the "Alien" mythos, Adams says "Prometheus" is no "Alien"-clone. "'Alien,'" he notes, "was a film that embraced its horror-in-space format, and after a slow-burn set up and magnificent central gore moment as the mini-alien bursts from John Hurt’s chest settled into a brilliantly shot monster movie before Sigourney Weaver’s final memorable battle. While 'Prometheus' has some striking chilling moments it never plays the all-out horror card, instead developing the science alongside the action and punctuating the film with moments that jolt and amaze." That makes it sound to me a little closer in tone to James Cameron's "Aliens" than Scott's own "Alien." Adams has kind words for most of the cast: Noomi Rapace as a religious archaeologist on a quest to find God, Charlize Theron as an icy corporate bureaucrat, Idris Elba as the spaceship captain, and Michael Fassbender, having "the most fun," as the team's robotic servant.
On the other end of the spectrum, "robotic" might be an apt word to describe how Variety's Justin Chang interpreted "Prometheus"' execution. Despite its lofty themes about science and religion, God and man, Chang claims the film "remains earthbound in narrative terms, forever hinting at the existence of a higher intelligence without evincing much of its own." Like Adams, Chang notes numerous tonal differences between "Prometheus" and "Alien"; unlike Adams, he's sees them as a minus, not a plus. "A key difference between this film and its predecessor," he says, "is one of volume. Incongruously backed by an orchestral surge of a score, the film conspicuously lacks the long, drawn-out silences and sense of menace in close quarters that made 'Alien' so elegantly unnerving. Prometheus is one chatty vessel, populated by stock wise-guy types who spout tired one-liners when they're not either cynically debunking or earnestly defending belief in a superior power. The picture's very structure serves to disperse rather than build tension."
Coming in somewhere between those two poles is Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter, who praises "Prometheus"'s "magnificent" technical details and chides its blatant attempts to turn itself into a new franchise (the end, he says, "feels like a craven teaser trailer for the next installment). McCarthy also reveals some of the finer points of a few of the characters' untimely demises, so if you're especially wary of spoilers (SPOILER ALERT: Characters die in horrible ways in an "Alien" movie) then you might want to have a less sensitive friend redact a few choice passages of the review before you take a look at it yourself (Chang's review has some spoilers, too).
Three reviews do not a definitive consensus make. As "Prometheus"' U.K. and U.S. releases get closer we'll find out where the majority of critics fall on this continuum (as you'll see below, most of the folks at the junket who were permitted to tweet their reactions were much more positive about the film). This is just the beginning for "Prometheus." The origin, you might say.
Instant Twitter-verse Reaction:
"The first two acts of 'Prometheus' are fairly tremendous -- 2 or 3 classic fright scenes, some strong acting, good 3D."
"The last chunk of 'Prometheus' is trying to serve too many masters and becomes muddled, though not cripplingly so."
"I've been given the go ahead. I can tell you I've seen 'Prometheus' and I can confirm that it is awesome."
"'Prometheus': Not only is it thrilling, but it leaves you asking questions. (remember, @DamonLindelof is involved after all)"
"#PROMETHEUS is the type of big budget sci-fi that studios rarely make. Extremely well done. Don't read reviews. Just go see it."
"I just saw #Prometheus last night -- it was AWESOME. Loved it. Truly breathtaking, incredible, spectacular, thrilling sci-fi at its best."