The best films in the Alien series, Ridley Scott's original and James Cameron's pluralized follow-up, didn't bother much with pondering the meaning of it all. The only film that did so, Alien 3, is the worst. But in the first two the characters were too occupied with escaping unthinkable terror to stop and discuss the things that really bother a guy, like, why is this happening? Still, deep within, these films harbored the urge to probe ultimate questions. What they really wanted to be was 2001: A Space Odyssey.
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In Scott's monumental and busy return to the franchise, he tries to do both: make us have deep thoughts even as he scares us shitless. The title, for example, refers to the myth of the Titan who stole fire from the gods, gave it to humans, and lived to regret it. It could also allude to The Modern Prometheus, the subtitle of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the archetypal horror story in which the creature is driven to find out why his creator made him in the first place. Even if, as the scientist Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) suggests here, it was simply "because he could."
But first, let's start with the dawn of man, as a giant guy who looks like a ripped version of Marvel's the Watcher drinks something nasty. Next, we're in a cave on the island of Skye in 2089, where Dr. Shaw (Noomi Rapace), beating Werner Herzog to the punch, has discovered a cave painting 35,000 years old. Turns out it's just one of many such scattered about the earth, each with a diagram of a star system. And so, instructed by a hologram of the late Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce ), founder of the infamous Weyland Corporation, Shaw and Holloway, her colleague and boyfriend, ride the title star ship to the planet on the ancient maps. Their mission: unravel the mystery of life.
Well, good luck to them. Before they encounter a truly spectacular, three-ring circus of a shitstorm, as they hobnob with the rest of the crew for a satisfying hour or so en-route, the question arises: do we care about any of these people? The redoubtable Ripley is unavailable, having not yet been born, but the combination of plucky Shaw, still clinging to the cross her father gave her as a child even as her scientific research offers herore reasons to abandon it, and Vickers (Charlize Theron), the glacial, whip-cracking corporate overseer, almost adds up to Sigourney Weaver's iconic alien asskicker. And predictably, the next most interesting character is the android David; though supposedly soulless, he has more personality than all the other members of the crew. Played by Michael Fassbender as a cross between C-3PO and Lawrence of Arabia (it's David's favorite movie), he shares the all-too-human qualities of vanity, treachery, spite, and compassion. No wonder we root for him.