(Originally posted at www.tkatthemovies.com)
If the Star Child in 2001: A Space Odyssey asked, “Where did I come from? Why am I here?” I would imagine it would not only irritate audiences as offensively on-the-nose but also rob the movie of its poetic mystery. The characters in Ridly Scott’s Prometheus ask themselves such questions all of the time, and the nonsense posits itself as profundity. This science fiction tentpole is fodder for the Inception generation that mistakes convoluted, “ambiguous” storytelling for intelligent filmmaking. The existential musings simply exist to cover up the fact that there is nothing of meaning here. Truly, the emperor has no clothes.
The movie never gives the audience a chance to draw its own conclusions, as a presentation from Charlie Holloway (Tom Hardy dead ringer Logan Marshall-Green) and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) clearly sets up the premise and the related existential agonizing. The movie leaves no question that these characters are working through some aching desire to figure out where they come from, but it never cares enough to expand or complicate. It’s content with simplistic character psychology: Elizabeth’s faith and curiosity are in part motivated by the death of her father, and that this mission is the plan of a billionaire (Guy Pearce in bad makeup) who bluntly states his own mortality as the driving force.
By the end of the movie, Elizabeth explains to synthetic David (Michael Fassbender) her insistent need to figure out where she comes from, “Well, I guess that’s why you’re a robot, and I’m a human being.” It is this sort of condescending obviousness that made me pine for the subtlety of a James Cameron script, who at least knows how to structure a blockbuster story to maximize thrills. The film plasters its theme in capital, bold letters on its forehead but never bothers to do anything more than simply ask the same question over and over again.
The film goes from lazy to offensive, however, as it attempts to explain the root of Eliabeth’s curiosity. In an oddly shot, poorly written and awkwardly acted scene, Elizabeth mentions to her lover Charlie how she can’t conceive – she can’t create. By drawing a connection between her inability to give birth and her desire to meet her creators, the movie takes the character’s maternal instinct as a given. Indeed, the ability to have a child is a very serious thing for a woman, but this movie makes no attempt to give this the thought it deserves. It serves simply as a means to establish a simplistic, dubious character motivation and a good old-fashioned case of irony when she finally gives birth to an alien monster.
If the original Alien franchise was full of feminist subversion, the prequel-not-really Prometheus nearly unravels that in its entirety. Alien and Aliens touched upon the powerlessness of women in the face of male-dominated militarism, <="" a="">Alien3 examined the threat of sexual violence, and Alien: Resurrection critiqued a woman’s lack of autonomy over her own body, even after death. In the latest film, a woman’s decision to “abort” an alien creature ultimately leads to the creation of a monster that will kill countless people. Although this film didn’t need to wave the flag of feminism, it could have had the decency to take a second look at its problematic post-feminist view of the world. With a female (Charlize Theron) overseeing the expedition, this film is content to believe that gender politics don’t matter. But in a film with imagery so sexually charged (specifically vaginal), a hint of thought regarding representation, if not probing of specific issues, would have been appreciated.
Yes, the film asks questions it will never begin to touch upon. Yes, it denies its female protagonist any sort of dignity. I didn’t even get to touch upon the wasted actors giving lifeless performances. But everyone is going to qualify, “But it looks great!” The question is whether it really does. It certainly impresses with its production design and visual effects, but these elements are robbed of their due diligence by a movie that refuses to shut up or slow down. Scott’s Alien and Blade Runner (in its director’s and final cuts at least) worked so well because they weren’t afraid of silences, of pauses that allow the audience to absorb the surroundings. Updated visual effects were an expected update, but Prometheus could have benefited from the original Alien’s nearly minimalist execution.
Prometheus did not need to stay true to the original franchise or follow in the footsteps of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 vision. But it’s an experience so hollow and unsatisfying, I can’t help but think it could have at least learned a thing or two from its predecessors. Fans or on-the-fence viewers might return to this movie and try to unlock deeper meanings this film has to offer. And they might think they have found something, but this is a film where even its biggest questions never sink past its surface.