He refused to show us an Alien in the sensational trailers (‘Aaaaah! Aaaaah!’), he wouldn’t even use the word ‘Alien’ in the title, but Ridley Scott gives us one almost immediately in Prometheus ’ opening scene. Not the kind you’re expecting, mind.

Breathtaking stereoscopic shots swoop across a gorgeous landscape. Black mountains wreathed in volcanic steam, glassy lakes and, at the top of a crashing waterfall, a tiny man. Only he’s not tiny. He’s not a man. Like an extra-terrestrial Greek titan, this tower of muscle flexes inside smooth pale skin. And then dies.

Creation and destruction are the twin-burners of Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof’s ambitious screenplay, which bricks up an epic new mythology around the tantalisingly unexplained image of the space jockey in Scott’s original 1979 space-horror.

It’s 2093, three decades before Ellen Ripley’s first bug-hunt, and we’re aboard another starship funded by sinister mega-corporation Weyland Industries. Joining the 17-man crew are scientist couple Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green), who’ve discovered that etchings from every ancient civilisation on Earth have all left clues to the same faraway planet.

Their mission: to discover where we come from – and why.

Once they touch down, we’re on familiar ground: the crew begin exploring a giant hollow labyrinthine of tunnels and, uh-oh, something sticky leaking from countless cylinders stored deep within one of the chambers…

Game over, man, game over. But if we’re been here before, Prometheus inhabits the host mythology without becoming suffocated by it. Pulling its own twists on many of the queasier elements of the quadrilogy, it tightens its grip slowly, making us wait until what’s out there gets in here.

Proving how wasted she was in Sherlock Holmes: Game Of Shadows , Rapace is a gentle, driven proto-Ripley who mirrors nicely with Charlize Theron’s glacial mission leader Meredith Vickers, strutting tightly in a witty silver-grey suit.

But it’s the brilliantly constructed character of Prometheus ’ android – sorry, synthetic person – David (Michael Fassbender) that provides much of the movie’s dramatic frisson. We first discover him alone on the ship, spinning a basketball on his fingertip, bleaching his hair and – in the movie’s loveliest invention – studying Peter O’Toole’s performance in Lawrence Of Arabia .

Owning every scene he steps into, Fassbender once again proves a truly magnetic screen presence, balancing Bishop’s even-mannered likeability with Ash’s unsettling lack of empathy.

Now if only they’d cast O’Toole himself as Peter Weyland instead of Guy Pearce, unrecognisable behind melty-faced prosthetics.

“I didn’t think you had it in you,” quips David, in a wry moment that Prometheus could have used more of.

Truth be told, the rest of the cast – Idris Elba’s effortlessly sardonic captain aside – are bug food for the film’s skin-crawlingly effective antagonists. Ooze trickles, tentacles coil and gore splatters, not least in the movie’s standout scene, involving Noomi Rapace and some desperate surgery.

Back in the sci-fi genre for the first time since 1982’s Blade Runner , director Ridley Scott has always been more at home with Big Spectacle than Big Ideas. And sure enough, once people start dying, Prometheus ’ ambitious thematic payload goes straight out of the airlock.

But Scott’s movie is flawlessly designed, with the beautiful 3D cinematography contrasting the clean white futurism of Prometheus’ interiors with the black corporeal surfaces of the alien catacombs.

It might not pack the unbearable menace or blazing horror of the saga’s first two movies, but it utterly eclipses the last two. It’s exciting, tense and fully impregnated for sequels…

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