About a week ago, I saw to very different films: Prometheus and The Raid: Redemption. These two films couldn't be more different from each other. And still, when the dust cleared, I ended up giving both almost the same grade, albeit for very different reasons.
First, Prometheus. The film is a quasi-prequel to the 1979 Alien, and is directed by Ridley Scott himself. It features a scientific expedition to a planet where lead scientists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) expect to find answers about humanity and life. The expedition is being monitored by Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), an employee of the company who could be described as a "bitch". The other significant members of the crew are Captain Janek (Idris Elba) and David (Michael Fassbender), an android that is perhaps more curious and more human than he should be.
It's inevitable to watch a film like this without high expectations. The resume of the director (who has worked with films like Blade Runner, Gladiator, Alien itself) combined with the legacy of the series make for a hefty baggage to carry. In the end, this is one of the things that harms the film. Because, as a stand alone film, Prometheus is a solid, decent sci-fi flick. But when compared to the likes of Alien or Aliens, it pales. You can tell it's an ambitious film. There's an underlying message on life, creation, mortality, and divine intervention. But it feels unexplored, despite being too preachy and in-your-face in some scenes. There are subtle hints of greater things here that are never fully brought, at least effectively, while other things are hammered more intently, perhaps numbing their effects.
That aside, there are some genuine intense moments of dread and fear, particularly as the crew explores a structure they find in the planet they arrive at. Scott knows how to handle those moments brilliantly, and delivers a nice, creepy atmosphere as well as some good scares. The essence of a greater and more complicated world is there. Unfortunately, it's not executed properly all the time. Speaking of great directing and scares, there's a scene where Elizabeth (Rapace) is trapped in a medical pod that's particularly intense. But the fact that it stretched believability too much hindered its effect, IMO.
As for the cast, the characters aren't developed that well. Rapace, as good as she could've been, never became a completely effective lead for me. The rest of the cast is pretty much one-dimensional. There's a vague attempt to instill some depth on Vickers (Theron), but it fell flat for me. Janek has a cool arc, but his character is too secondary, plus the arc is too predictable and not that strong. The only character that shows interesting traits is the android. Michael Fassbender plays the role of David neatly, and he truly shines in it. That said, I don't know what the director and writer wanted to convey with the character. There was something off about the way his character did things, and not necessarily the obvious "off". His motivations and behavior seemed more childlike than anything else. Perhaps that was to show how eager he was to please his "father"?
Anyway, the final act ranged from messy to predictable. Sure, there was an intensity to it, in terms of action, but it felt too muddled. Add to that the fact that the trailer revealed too much, and you have a drained effect in the end. High expectations, perhaps unfulfillable, combined with a so-so execution doesn't add up to greatness.
On the other hand, we have The Raid: Redemption. an Indonesian action film that's probably the opposite of Prometheus; at least in terms of goals. The film doesn't have the lofty goals that Prometheus has. It exists purely to provide kick-ass action and not much else. The film follows a rookie SWAT agent called Rama (Iko Uwais) thrown in the middle of a raid inside a building controlled by a vicious crime-lord (Ray Sahetapy). After the team is ambushed, Rama has to fight his way out. And that's about it.
The whole film consists of neatly choreographed fights that occur while Rama is trying to get from point A to point B. Even though the fights veer too much into superhero genre, they are still kick-ass. Sure, there's an underlying story about police corruption and estranged brothers, yadda yadda, but it only serves to connect one action sequence to the other. In a way, the film feels like a video game as Rama tries to get through each floor into safety, while encountering seemingly endless hordes of thugs. Like I said, there are no ambitions here. But on a pure entertainment level, it delivered enough to keep me up. Not enough to bring it over the hump or make it memorable, but enough to pass time.
So we have two different films: one with great ambitions and maybe greater expectations, and another one with more simpler goals. Prometheus was decent, but failed to deliver on its promise. The Raid was better than I expected, but not enough to be great. In the end, they both meet in the middle. Grade: B (although I can see The Raid leaning more towards a B- with time)
(All pictures belong to 20th Century Fox, Sony Picture, and their affiliates)