What is the Meaning of Life? And Other Questions Prometheus Fails to Answer

Ridley Scott's Prometheus makes a huge production of not having very much to say. Either that or it just doesn't say it very well. It bestows itself with the impossible task of exploring the meaning of life, faith and the inextricable bond of creation and destruction – a storytelling endeavor of sci-fi proportions in itself.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter what it all means – the film is meant to promote discussion, and in a pop-cultural landscape where so much of the action takes place after the fact amongst viewers on the Internet, being elusive actually behooves this film. It is a vessel for discourse, a machine of virality. Get ready to talk and talk and talk about Prometheus. It's 2012's Inception.

Like a stereotypical beneficiary of good DNA, Prometheus gets away with being possibly empty by being so fucking beautiful. This the best-looking space movie I've ever seen, and maybe the best-looking movie I've ever seen, period. That doesn't excuse everything or make this a great film, like its quasi-predecessor Alien was, but it sure does make for a gratifying experience on par with a two-hour fireworks display. This film massages pleasure receptors in your brain. You're going to see it, and it will seduce you on beauty alone.

Most impressive is Scott's use of the 3D medium, because his technique relies on texture. Dreams look like they're rendered in one of those Pin Point Impression things you'd get from Spencer Gifts, footage of ancient beings replays from the past in the form of holograms with VHS resolution, particles and glitter fill the screen (and theater), a map of the universe envelops an android in a symphony of blue CGI, a 3D map expands as an explored cave is charted. At one point, Tom Hardy's slighter, more handsome doppelganger Logan Marshall-Green pops his head through a holographic television and is shrouded in glowing, digital gorgeousness. It's an overt symbol of the glorious mixture of flesh and technology that is Prometheus, which also features perfect specimens like Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and Michael Fassbender. This film presents a new spectacle in virtually every frame.

There's nothing quite as earth-shattering as the chest-bursting scene in the original Alien, but Prometheus at least knocks on the door of iconography with two tremendous sequences. One involves two men tangling with slithering alien beings that look like horse cocks and act something close to the facehuggers we all know and love, wrapping themselves around the explorers/our brains and then squeezing out terror. The other one involves a Caesarian section/abortion performed in a robotic surgery unit. In the words of Fassbender's android character David, "it's not exactly a traditional fetus." The scene explores countless variations in squirming – the characters' and the audiences. It's almost unbelievable.

Prometheus is a superficial thrill, so the more it explains, the dumber it sounds, and the less it actually explains. It provokes more questions than it provides as this space crew sets off to another galaxy in the hope of finding the gods/"engineers" that created human life. Noomi Rapace's archaeologist character Elizabeth Shaw decides that a series of common pictograms of a star formation in the artwork of several ancient civilizations signify an invitation for humans to come on over and meet their pneumatic creators. (The gods are gods.) I never got if that was the case or not. I stopped understanding the motivation of just about everyone on screen during the third act, when people and gods start behaving strangely, seemingly in the interest of wrapping things up and leading into the promised link with the Alien series, which ultimately feels shoe-horned in. Ideas of what exactly makes a god/creator are explored and suggested, but they go nowhere. The mission is unsuccessful.

The purpose of a prequel would seem to be exposition: it should help us understand how we got to what we already saw. Prometheus attempts to account for far more than how the alien of Alien came to be – it wants to explain existence in general. Even in its own compressed logic, it comes up short and implicitly asks for assistance. As we know well, mass pondering is a great way to fill the time that we have on this earth. That the fruits of this group activity are scant is beside the point – we are a culture of means, not ends.

In its roundabout way, though, Prometheus sums up existence rather nicely. In the words of one character, "the answer is irrelevant."