01/06/2012 10:01 BST | Updated 31/07/2012 10:12 BST

'Prometheus' Reviewed

The wait is finally over. Prometheus has landed. For months leading up to the launch of Ridley Scott's first foray back into science fiction for three decades, Prometheus was teased and trailed with outstanding viral videos letting slip small pieces of information about the film that 'shared DNA' with his 1979 masterpiece Alien. While this is true to an extent, those expecting a dark, tense, claustrophobic sci-fi horror like that will be disappointed. But for anyone with an open mind about science fiction and the grand, sweeping ideas that can be housed within such a film, Prometheus is a beautiful, harrowing triumph.

Archaeologists Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a series of markings on ancient cave paintings across Earth that highlight co-ordinates to a planet in a distant galaxy. Funded by Weyland Industries and accompanied by the companies representatives Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and synthetic humanoid David (Michael Fassbender), the archaeologists travel on the spaceship Prometheus to the distant planet. They hope to find out the truth about the birth of the human race, but discover more than they expected when they enter what appears to be a structure designed to create new life.

If anything Prometheus is more like Scott's second science fiction film Blade Runner. It spends the majority of the running time investigating and revealing information in the same satisfying, if slow-paced way as an actual archaeological excavation might. It takes its time in its surroundings and revels in the characters reactions to the overwhelming amount of information and stunning sights that they take in. And what sights they are.

Prometheus' greatest strength is its visual style. Clearly designed within an inch of its life, absolutely every scene is littered with futuristic gadgets and high-tech apparatus that help to create a bright future that is both appealing and slightly disconcerting. Originally Alien designer H.R. Giger's fingerprints are all over Prometheus, even going as far as having a mural of his work on the wall of one of the sets. The infamous 'Space jockey' set from the original film makes a reappearance along with some other familiar, if new, creatures and environments. As described, it shares common DNA, without being a fully-fledged Alien film, but it does revel in the technological sophistication that it has created.

At the centre of these technological marvels is Michael Fassbender's David, the walking, talking epitome of future technology. Fassbender, apart from being the best in the whole film, relies on the premise that as a robot, he can't feel emotions and thus his performance is restrained to the point of being alien. And like many synthetic humanoids in the Alien Universe, all is not as it seems, but rarely for the reasons first suspected. It's a tour de force from a man on one of the longest streaks of incredible roles and is further evidence that he is one of the best actors working today.

The rest of Prometheus' crew are fine in their limited roles. Most adopt the stereotypical stance for their given characters such as Theron's 'Ice Queen' and Idris Elba's 'Journeyman Captain.' There is even a prototype Ripley in the form of Rapace's Dr Shaw. Like her predecessor, (or is that successor?) Shaw is a strong female character who doesn't have to sacrifice her femininity in the search for acceptance. It's a shame that there are so many characters as the reduction of a few would have allowed more time to expand on the more interesting ones.

Ridley Scott clearly wanted to engage the audience's brains with Prometheus rather than with any primal fear or thirst for exhilaration, but with the history of the franchise he also must have known that there certain expectations. Like a master-craftsmen he blends these elements together well, although there are times when the pacing suffers because of it. It has Alien-esque scares and some wonderful bodyshocks, while also providing a few scenes of pure action that have come straight out of the Cameron playbook. But the clear intention with this revisiting was to answer some age-old questions, while raising countless more that will no doubt be discussed for years to come.

Like The Avengers Assemble before it, Prometheus indulges itself with conversation and ensemble casting rather than an overload of weapons or scares. Ridley Scott doesn't do things by halves and Prometheus is no exception. A visual feast of unparalleled scale and design, it occasionally struggles with its own heritage, caught between science fiction horror, action and discussion. In fact if Alien defined science fiction horror and Aliens redefined science fiction action films then Prometheus' legacy is the reintroduction of science into science fiction. Using small elements of both horror and action, the main thrust of the narrative is exploration and the search for answers to life's big questions.

Rating: * * * *