This review is spoiler-free... mostly. I mean, if you want a totally sanitized experience then don't read anything about any movie before you see it!
Let's face it: people are biased. And by "people" in this instance I mean me.
Sci-fi is probably the genre that I have the most natural love for. Especially space movies. I go for space movies the way most of America (apparently) goes for team-up superhero films. That means I'm generally willing to cut them more slack and give more benefit of the doubt when they turn out a little less-than-amazing.
Generally. I mean things like Avatar are the exception that proves the rule.
As long a particular sci-fi gets me thinking, entertains me, and presents some cool visuals and ideas, I'm basically good. Prometheus did that for me and it didn't scrape by with just the minimum effort either.
There's been a lot of talk about Prometheus being disappointing or full of plotholes (or unanswered questions) or not as intelligent or intelligent as it portrayed itself. Eh, I see where those people are coming from. But I disagree... mostly.
Yes. Prometheus is only half "smart" while the other half is merely entertaining. It's kinda weird. You can fairly clearly discern which bits are the Alien prequel and which bits are the other story they wanted to tell. But despite being easy to spot, the two ideas generally mesh alright without being too detrimental to one another.
The "thoughtful," exploratory half of the film poses giant questions. Why are we here? How did we get here? What happens after we die? Is there more to existence than can be measured by our senses and scientific methods? In the vein of classic sci-fi, these questions are posed, but not really answered. They're there because they're questions the characters and indeed all people wrestle with at some point in their lives.
It seems like this is the half of the movie that Ridley Scott really wanted to make. The 74-year-old director must be asking these sorts of questions himself as he approaches the end of his life.
The Alien half of the movie is entertaining at worst and really, really gripping at best despite all the little questions that keep popping up and the occasional horror movie act of utter stupidity from whichever character is supposed to die next. I liked the rest of the film's elements enough to ignore these things (at least on my first viewing). Possibly they would ruin future viewings. I don't know. Like I said, I'm a sucker for space movies.
There are a million little nitpicks one could make. Things that aren't explained. Things that don't make sense. Stuff just happens and you don't know why. We're left to guess or dismiss some events entirely. It's unfortunate they weren't able to escape some of these frustrating details because they really do keep the film from being great.
For my money, the exploration half of the film is fantastic. It's what I love about sci-fi. Cool visuals. Cool concepts. Mind-expanding premises. I love that kind of stuff and it's stuff that sci-fi is uniquely good at.
It should be mentioned that the principle cast (a bunch of very excellent people) all do a fantastic job with Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace leading the way. The choice of Guy Pierce (who will always be a good actor in my book due to his turn in Memento) as the elderly Peter Weyland is frustrating. He does a fine job, but the makeup is noticeably... just wrong. The Weyland character was originally to appear younger in the film which makes this casting choice a lot more understandable (indeed he appeared younger in a fictional TEDTalk that was done as promotion for the film).
Anyhow, I recommend this one. It certainly moved my meter a lot more than The Avengers. But then again I was the only one who really seemed to feel that way so your mileage with Prometheus may very. I'd rather have a meaningful, watchable film with a few flaws about the edges than a perfectly polished, highly watchable film that's hollow inside and out.
Honestly my biggest disappointment with the film is that the awesome scream-punctuated song from the trailers doesn't actually play during the film (or even the credits). There are worse criticisms I've leveled at films.
After re-watching the original Alien, I have to say I like Prometheus better. Sure, Alien is classic and got the whole thing started, but it really is very basic and plodding. It's a bit too slow and empty of ideas for my tastes in sci-fi (if your sci-fi is slow it must be really stimulating, see 2001: A Space Odyssey).
Prometheus is Alien with a couple of interesting philosophical/theological/scientific questions kicking around. And I see that along with a little faster pace as an upgrade. While Alien has better individual scenes, Prometheus is more watchable overall and has more for my brain to chew on.
But Aliens is still the best of 'em. And believe me: I mean that. I am no fan of James Cameron.