I think it's time to come to a rather harsh truth. For a long time, we've come to a point where we recognize that whenever we walk into a Tim Burton movie, we cannot expect a coherent story. We can expect a hodge-podge of whimsical imagery tied to loose framework that can, somewhat laughably, be called a script.
What Prometheus made me realize is that Ridley Scott, when left to his own devices, is essentially the non-whimsical version of Tim Burton. You always have a sense that Burton knows that what he's making is hogwash, and an excuse for his imagination to run wild. Scott, sadly, seems to really believe that he makes important films.
I make this observation not to discount either filmmaker, because they've both made films that I consider absolute classics. I make it because it's really the only way to enjoy Prometheus. Sit back, and let the imagery play on your eyeballs, and enjoy it as a visual spectacle. Because, on that level, it's pretty astonishing.
Try to forget that the characters seem to only exist to make increasingly terrible choices. Try to forget the Alien connection, because it will only frustrate you. Most importantly, try to forget the sense early in the movie that BIG questions are going to be posed, and grappled with, because that will only throw into stark relief how commercial concerns overwhelmed the proceedings.
That's my basic, spoiler-free review. The film is beautiful, the 3-D works extremely well, and the whole thing is rather confusing and underwhelming, with the exception of Michael Fassbender's performance.
From this point on...a SPOILER WARNING will apply.
This is an Alien prequel. It shouldn't be, but it is. The grafting on of Alien material is so weak and half-assed that you realize, at some point, somebody told Scott the only way he'd get his budget was to connect the film to Alien. Apparently, the planet/moon in Prometheus is NOT LV-426, yet during the course of the film we see an Engineer craft crash in the same way as the identical craft was found abandoned in Alien. we hear Dr. Shaw record an emergency message that corresponds to what we understand Ash to have intercepted in Alien. So, when I'm told it's NOT LV-426, I get more than a little pissed off.
Why? Because it's so utterly half-assed. It's so clear that, at some point, it was supposed to be LV-426, but then somebody thought maybe that was too on the nose, or wouldn't give Ridley the freedom to change a few things, or whatever. Instead of going back and making some pertinent script changes, we just change a readout on a screen. I find it kind of insulting, in a "oh the audience won't care about logic" way.
The whole damn movie is like that. A series of horrible things happen, mainly because the cannon-fodder characters (truly, I couldn't tell you any secondary character's name) just act like utter idiots from the instant they set foot on this planet, without an iota of connective tissue to make them add up to something whole.
I've read online defenses of this film that say, "Alien left you with questions, too." Well, sure it did, where did the Xenomorph come from? How did it get to LV-426? What was that Space Jockey thing? The difference from Prometheus is, Alien never left you with questions about how and why things were happening. The life cycle of Alien's Xenomorph was brutally clear, and it was killing the crew for food, survival (I won't get into the infamous deleted scene regarding the genesis of the eggs, because Aliens pretty much upended that as far as "cannon" goes). The questions Alien raised were all ancillary to the immediate story being told.
It also didn't rely on characters doing stupid things in order to keep the plot moving. When Kane investigated the egg in Alien, I got it. Curiosity from a guy who'd been, for the most part, unfazed by what they'd seen. In Prometheus, we have two utterly terrified characters, and we get multiple examples of their terror, trying to pet a totally unknown alien lifeform.
Prometheus leaves gaps that are needed to understand why things are happening. Why are the Engineers so violent toward humans? These are not animals, even high-functioning animals, like the Alien series' Xenomorphs, they are a highly evolved, technologically advanced race. They must want something, and instead of giving us even a glimmer of an answer to that, we, essentially, get "come back for Prometheus 2!" This choice is utterly crippling for the film, because it makes the Engineers boring. Here are evolved, thinking creatures, and they come off as less interesting than the function-on-instinct creature of Alien.
The worst thing, actually, about Prometheus is that all of this effort, all the early scenes that hint at massive ideas and challenging concepts, gets upended so that we can, essentially, have a rehash of Alien with less interesting aliens. Even if we just get visual about it, nothing in this film matches the sleek, sensual, terrifying beast that H.R. Geiger created. Nothing even close. OK, maybe the penis-snake things, but those are about as close as anything here gets to that level of visual creativity. Seriously, Prometheus reminded me of nothing so much as one of those cut-rate Alien knock-offs that Roger Corman pumped out after Scott's film was released. Star-Beast, or some such thing.
Performance wise...Michael Fassbender wins, hands down. His Lawrence of Arabia-obsessed android David is a really winning creation. He's also the only member of the cast who seems to have thought about the bizarre decisions the script was asking his character to make, and sat down to figure out how to justify them.
Noomi Rapace is just an utter non-starter, as far as screen presence. I don't get it, at all. Of course, I also have not seen the Swedish Girl With a Dragon Tattoo films.
Charlize Theron looks great, of course, but she seems stuck playing a subplot that was cut from the film. It's so clear that she's playing Vickers in an inhuman manner, you have to think there was someplace, somewhere in the script that questioned if she was an android, as well. Nowhere in the finished film, and that leaves Theron, and her character, high and dry.
The film IS worth seeing, for the visuals alone. Scott is now in the club, with James Cameron and Martin Scorcese, of filmmakers who learned how to make 3-D work before shooting in 3-D. The film is much brighter than I expected, but it allows the 3-D to work correctly. the design is as exquisite as you expect from Ridley Scott, even if I would've liked to see more Geiger call outs. It's a stunning film, no doubt.
Just don't get me started on the endings...either one of them.