While he hasn’t exactly been resting on his laurels for the past thirty years, Ridley Scott finally returns to the genre that gave him his start for the first time in thirty years with Prometheus. It also marks his return to the Alien franchise, which he started with 1979’s Alien. Subsequent installments saw new directors take the helm – James Cameron for 1986’s Aliens, David Fincher for 1992’s Alien 3, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet for 1997’s Alien Resurrection. Each film expanded the universe of central protagonist Ellen Ripley, while keeping some mystery surrounding the Alien she continuously encountered.

Prometheus, which is a quasi-prequel to Alien, seeks to answer some of the questions raised by Scott’s original film while establishing a separate series of films.

On its surface, Prometheus is a beautifully shot, proficiently paced, genuinely frightening film. It’s easily the most squirm-inducing film in the series since Alien, including one particularly graphic scene I can’t recall seeing anything like in mainstream cinema before. Prometheus, on a base level, is one of the most enthralling films of the summer.

With some distance, there are some critiques to be lobbed at the plot. The film attempts to address larger issues about human existence and the universe at large, which unfortunately leads to some plot holes. Some of this might be intentional. Prometheus is intended to be the first in a new series of films, and some of the head-scratching questions left might make more sense in a few years with a sequel. On its own, though, it’s a bit of a flaw.

Every canon film in the Alien series has featured a completely new cast, save Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley. Given that this film is a prequel to the series, Weaver is not involved, leaving room for a new central protagonist. In Weaver’s absence, we have Elizabeth Shaw, played by Noomi Rapace. Rapace’s Shaw, a scientist who balances faith with the desire for knowledge, is a markedly different protagonist, but one who feels appropriate for this offshoot of the franchise.

Rapace is surrounded by a top-notch supporting cast, including Michael Fassbender as the android David, Charlize Theron as the administrator for the corporation funding the expedition, Idris Elba as the Prometheus’ captain, and Logan Marshall-Green as Shaw’s boyfriend and fellow scientist.

A note on the presentation of the film: I admit to not being a huge fan of 3D, and I normally find the technique to be unnecessary at best. Prometheus is the rare film that, in my opinion, works in a 3D setting. The format pulls viewers into an already taut film and makes the horror all the more palpable. Also worth noting: while Prometheus makes nods to Alien, seeing the original film is not vital in order to get into Prometheus. It certainly helps, though.

Ultimately, Prometheus doesn’t completely live up to the expectations of being Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe. On its own merits, though, it’s far and away one of the more exhilarating films of the summer.

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