Visually impressive and featuring one or two breakout performances, this anticlimactic exercise too often plays as though it has been cobbled together from archetypes, imagery and tropes from countless other movies.
Prometheus is more interested in piling on big questions than in answering them. It's deep without being particularly smart, although the dazzling design and special effects keep you from noticing that basic flaw until at least an hour in.
Making up for the expected nature of some of the film's plot twists is Arthur Max's spooky, H.R. Giger-influenced production design, Dariusz Wolski's fluid cinematography, as well as Scott's moment-to-moment storytelling skill.
Though Prometheus follows Alien's story beats, it's a looser and less satisfying story, more intellectual than visceral, and not fully satisfying on either level. But in part, that's because it's trying to do so much more.
You're more likely to enjoy the film if you go in thinking less about "Alien" and more about Scott, with his emphasis on images, tone and atmosphere over -- sometimes at the expense of -- plot and story.
With this overreaching Prometheus, Scott seems a bit like David carefully arranging his hair in imitation of O'Toole's Lawrence. He can still mimic the appearance of an epic, noble, important movie -- but the appearance is all.
Alien DNA plays a big role in Prometheus, but it's the DNA of Alien that this new movie just can't quite live up to. The less you think of this new film as part of that legendary series, the more you'll enjoy it.