I was severely disappointed the first time I saw Prometheus. Mainly because the script appeared to be one of those that purposely try to befuddle the audience by holding back answers, all to cause of having a smart or clever film. Combine that with a movie that couldn’t make up its mind about being a space saga or a space horror flick, and you end up with a disjointed, messy piece of film. Not to mention the strangely unlikable and shallow crew of characters, Shaw and David being the only exception. (Not that David endears himself, but he’s fascinating from start to finish.)
Before I saw Alien: Covenant, I decided to revisit Prometheus to see if I would still feel the same way about it. Strangely enough, I enjoyed it much better the second time around. I’d credit two things for the change of heart: focusing on the film’s basic premise, and realizing it was David’s movie all along.
Let’s start with the basic premise. When I watched Prometheus the first time, I thought of it as an origin story. It actually is, but not the way I expected. More on that later. The trailers sold the idea of tracing back man’s origins, visiting whoever created us. A grand premise, but that’s all it was: an idea. The film itself detracts from that notion by throwing in a bunch of mystery that never really gets solved, focusing more on padding the mythology of the franchise while throwing in a lot of religious ideology just for kicks. Then everyone starts dying.
What I saw as the basic premise is this: at the beginning we see an Engineer on a planet that may or may not be earth. He sips some black ooze, disintegrates, and falls into the water, where his DNA rapidly changes, possibly creating a new form of life. (Broadly hinted to be us)
Looking at that sequence, the Engineer is clearly duped. I like to imagine it as an adolescent Engineer prank (Dude, he’s drinking it, he’s drinking it! Oh snap-we’re so outta here, man.), but the more responsible idea is the guy’s been selected for some type of experiment. Because he’s clearly shocked by the effects of the ooze. Like he didn’t expect a body-dissolving type of reaction at all. So he’s clearly some test subject/guinea pig for the diabolical weaponry the Engineers are developing. Seeing it works, they go back to report and stew up more of the stuff. A lot more.
At some point in time they must have realized their mistake, creating accidental life when they didn’t mean to. The archeology findings indicate their returns to Earth, visiting with their creation and analyzing our potential, I suppose. But at some point in time they apparently determine humans to be either a threat or a complete waste of time, because they arm a ship near to bursting with black ooze canisters and set a course for Earth. You know—to wipe us out of existence for being such a disappointment. Those Engineers are apparently an exacting species.
But on their way to stock up on black ooze, something goes wrong. Their biological weaponry center has some sort of meltdown and infects some of their population. The results are monstrous, to say the least. They’re forced to leave their dead and hightail it outta the facility, abandoning their mission to destroy Earth for the moment.
And then the Prometheus arrives, with their mission of meeting their makers. Things go bad almost as soon as they set foot on the planet, and a string of mostly stupid actions reduces their numbers to one survivor.
And an android.
And here is where Prometheus actually is an origin story. It’s the story of David, an intuitive android with daddy issues and a god complex, who has outgrown any affection he might have had toward his creators. When I re-watched the film as David’s story, his actions make more sense, especially considering the impact he has on the next film. At first I considered his experimental meddling strange and inexplicable. The fact was I underestimated his motives. David has a definite grudge against humans.
Michael Fassbender is a wonder in this role. He’s so good that even the promotional video featuring his introduction is a marvel to behold.
When we first meet David in the film he seems pleasant enough: riding a bicycle while shooting hoops, watching Lawrence of Arabia and pattering his hairstyle from Peter O’Toole’s.
And spying on Shaw’s dreams while she’s in cryosleep.
This is the first clue to David’s depraved side. Though the action could be looked at as mere robotic curiosity, Fassbender’s depiction indicates a casual invasion. David sees nothing wrong with spying on Shaw’s dreams because he has no moral boundaries. In fact he appears to enjoy rousing discomfort from the humans around him. He is loyal only to his creator, and even then he admits to only waiting until Weyland dies so that he can be ‘free.’ To do what?
That’s the scary part.
David considers himself superior to his creator. How to prove it? By experimenting on his gods. His actions are somewhat directed by Weyland in an attempt to prolong his life, but the ruthless deeds David engages in show that he is clearly exacting a perverse delight in altering the very species that created him. He becomes the reflection of the Engineers: creating and destroying as he sees fit, with no regard for the suffering of the hosts. David’s manipulative acts render him the as the film’s ultimate villain, one who still has a controlling hold over the last survivor of the terrifying tragedy.
In a nutshell, I found Prometheus to be a solid film the second time around. When I purposely shifted my focus from trying to figure out the whole Engineer debacle, there was a good movie to be found. The film itself is a thing of beauty, gorgeously shot and rocking great special effects. Fassbender and Noomi Rapace make the journey worthwhile, despite the film basically wasting the talents of charismatic actors like Idris Elba and Charlize Theron.
Prometheus doesn’t have much at all to do with the Alien franchise, and I’m perfectly okay with that now. It’s a good film on its own merit, and despite some muddled writing it sets up Ridley Scott’s new direction nicely. Three and a half out of five stars.
When Bard Constantine isn’t consumed by pop culture, he writes gritty futures and far-flung fantasy. See more at bardwritesbooks.com