Hmmm. A baffling mess, sadly, and the more I think about it the more incoherent it seems. It’s a kind-of-prequel to Alien, in which a mismatched crew (again) working for a sinister company (again) land on an unmapped planet (again) and investigate some mysterious HR Giger inspired ruins (again) with horrifying xenomorphic consequences (again).
Beware of spoilers, all! From the mysteriously incomprehensible and unnecessary double prologue on, the plotting never really seemed to make any sense to me. A mysterious alien race of engineers has created mankind but also wants to destroy them, apparently failed to do it but then, it would seem, gave up, using a biological goo-weapon which sometimes infects people and turns them into super-strong psychos, sometimes impregnates them with alien-y spores, sometimes makes their heads explode, sometimes produces goo-snakes that throttle them and sometimes … doesn’t really do anything. If I was an ultra-intelligent progenitor race I’d hope to come up with a slightly more reliable bio-weapon. There are attempts to shroud all this in tantalising existential profundity which really didn’t work for me, and attempts to shroud it in pseudo sciency mumbo jumbo about DNA that worked even less. It had important stuff to say about, like, parenthood and creation and that, but I’m danged if I can tell you what.
I don’t know if it was just that I lost enthusiasm for the project generally, but the problems seemed to go well beyond plot and into the minutiae. It looked great, there was some fantastic design work, the ubiquitous and ever-reliable Michael Fassbender was excellent as synthetic David, Idris Elba continues to be a really charismatic and watchable actor, but otherwise the crew scarcely made an impression. They hardly registered as characters, and exchanges between them were usually cardboardy, and sometimes downright risible. Noomi Rapace, who’d been so good in the Swedish Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, seemed totally lost here. Why make her pretend to be English? Why give her that execrable hair? Why make up Guy Pearce to be a hundred and fifty? That never, ever works. Are there no competent actually old actors around? People who can look aged without seventeen kilos of paralysing latex and therefore, you know, act and look old simultaneously? Charlize Theron’s character did push ups and looked pissed off about stuff, but as far as I could tell did not do or say one thing in the entire film that was of any use. Strange. Baffling decisions abounded – We really don’t like the feel of this dead alien city, so even though we’re paid professionals and scientists investigating the most important discovery in human history, we’ll leave the group in a sulk and strike off on our own, then we’ll get lost even though one of us was responsible for mapping the place! Yeah! There were even odd moments where basic editing and continuity discipline seemed to lapse – Noomi, impregnated by an alien spore, is being sedated by two hazmat suit wearing crew members, then she fights them off, runs away and conducts the surgery to remove it herself in a surgical surgery machine conveniently introduced earlier. Probably the strongest scene in the film, on a superficial level, but no one bothers to follow her, or tries to stop her, or really even mentions it afterwards. Bizarre. I now strongly suspect my wife of malingering, as well, since following her Caesarian Section she apparently had to spend several days in bed unable to, you know, turn over, while Noomi, aside from the odd grunt and clutch at the belly scar, is perfectly capable of running a four minute mile a couple of hours after the procedure.
But without doubt the greatest mystery, the one which perplexed me and my wife right from the opening scene, was never explained. What insidious message was being sent by making the mysterious engineers look so freakishly much like China Mieville?
I sadly couldn’t find a still of the engineer in the flesh and had to make do with the giant stone head, but it’s perhaps just as well as you literally would not have been able to tell the two pictures apart. Maybe.
A bit dull and silly, all in all. Nowhere near as dull and silly as the Star Wars prequels, but something of the same sense of a creator having lost their grip on the subject matter, picking over the same ground while struggling to tie up loose ends that were never meant to be tied, ploddingly explaining elements of their creation that defy explanation and, indeed, would be much, much better left ambiguous…