"Prometheus" is a crackling exercise in deep space thrills and chills, but it's no "Alien," say many of America's top critics.
Ridley Scott's return to the science-fiction genre that birthed some of his most memorable films netted a respectable 74 percent fresh rating on the critic's aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The film, which is being billed not as a prequel, but rather a return to the chilly futuristic world of "Alien," opens Friday in the United States, where it faces stiff competition from the animated film "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted."
But the strong reviews should help "Prometheus" plant a flag in the crowded summer box office field.
Of course, not everyone was transported by Scott's gory set pieces. TheWrap's Alonso Duralde griped that the film was overly concerned with explication, praising its visual panache and suspense scenes, but faulting it for failing to live up to the legacy of the earlier "Alien" films.
"Taken as a film that has to follow in the slime-encrusted footsteps of the elegantly terrifying 'Alien' and James Cameron’s intensely thrilling 'Aliens,' however, 'Prometheus' can’t help feeling like something of an also-ran," Duralde wrote. "While it certainly delivers in many ways, the film ultimately winds up playing like very expensive fan-fiction for people who would have liked '2001' better had everything been explained."
He must have seen a different film from Chicago Sun-Times' sage Roger Ebert, who praised the film's explanatory restraint and awarded it four stars.
"Ridley Scott's 'Prometheus' is a magnificent science-fiction film, all the more intriguing because it raises questions about the origin of human life and doesn't have the answers," Ebert wrote. "It's in the classic tradition of golden age sci-fi, echoing Scott's 'Alien' (1979), but creating a world of its own."
He went on to praise the film's casting, special effects, and in a somewhat shocking move given his very public distaste for the format, its 3D.
In The New York Times, A.O. Scott took issue with the storyline, finding it creaky, but raved about the film's visual grandeur.
"The visual scheme is sufficiently captivating, and most of the performances are subtle enough that whatever skepticism you may arrive with quickly turns into happy disorientation," Scott wrote. "The 3-D is unusually graceful — your gaze is absorbed rather than assaulted — and you are pulled into a world of lovely and disconcerting strangeness with plenty of time to puzzle over the behavior of its inhabitants."
Writing in USA Today, Claudia Puig also felt that "Prometheus"s' narrative arc became untethered as the film unspooled, but lauded its moments of "palpable paranoia."
"Scott seduces audiences with thought-provoking possibilities, then pulls a bait-and-switch, subbing in a familiar monster thriller and fiery explosion-fest," Puig wrote.
Though she found the storyline lacking, Puig was captivated by the lead performances of Noomi Rapace, whose heroine she found both tough and vulnerable, and Michael Fassbender, labeling him a "standout."
One critic who felt that "Prometheus"s' mission was worth skipping was Variety's Justin Chang. Labeling the film overly chatty and loud, Chang said Scott's return to the world of "Alien" failed to live up to its substantial online hype.
"Elaborately conceived from a visual standpoint, Ridley Scott's first sci-fier in the three decades since 'Blade Runner' remains earthbound in narrative terms, forever hinting at the existence of a higher intelligence without evincing much of its own," Chang wrote.