***1/2 (out of four)
So beautiful it belongs on the Maxim Hot 100, “Prometheus” arrives in the wake of an awesome-looking trailer to disintegrate the existence of the “Alien vs. Predator” movies and revive the world's excitement about cinema's second-most famous E.T. Also helpful: Ridley Scott (“Blade Runner”) returns to the director's chair, where he was when the “Alien” series began in 1979.
Finally confirmed as a prequel to “Alien,” “Prometheus” concerns itself with where it all began on a much bigger level. A few years after Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her boyfriend Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) find cave drawings suggesting an alien foundation to the human race, the “scientific exploratory vessel” Prometheus arrives on a foreign planet in 2093, hoping to answer questions the species has asked since the creation of the words, “Who,” “How” and “Why?”
Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) commands the ship and insists her companions not make contact with anyone or anything. Captain Janek (Idris Elba) merely steers the ship; he doesn't want any more information and he's the only one who can get everyone home. Helpful, blond David (Michael Fassbender) seems like one of the most trustworthy people on the ship, except he's not people: He's an android who spent the two-plus years of travel time (during which everyone else slept in stasis) learning ancient languages, playing basketball and watching “Lawrence of Arabia” over and over.
Fassbender reportedly watched “Arabia” constantly for the part, and many will want to put “Prometheus” on a loop to dissect the script from “Lost” creator Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts, which establishes a thoughtful, studied pace that creeps instead of screams. If “Prometheus” intrigues more than it rivets, the film still deserves credit for (very directly) articulating so many enormous concepts about humanity in a movie packed with astonishing imagery. Scott has created 3-D landscapes and creatures that look exactly as real as they must to rise above all the other expensive special effects extravaganzas. I won't reveal anything specific about them because my inbox can't hold all the angry emails I'd receive for giving something away about this highly anticipated, largely satisfying thriller.
Rapace and especially the unsettling Fassbender are fantastic, and “Prometheus” skirts narrative similarities to “Jurassic Park” by examining our inability to resist questions for which we might not be prepared for the answers. (David, quoting Peter O’Toole’s T.E. Lawrence, advises quieting the voices inside: “The trick … is not minding that it hurts.”) The movie mournfully recognizes the devastation that unknowing beings bring on themselves with curiosity that’s uncommon for big-budget summer spectacles.
It's a spellbinding take on the universe’s domino effect, maintained by ideas and underlined by the never-ending search to find the one that started it all.
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