I've spent a lot of free time between snacks contemplating the reasons why movies about stuff happening in space are an immediate and automatic source of pleasure for me. And I have determined that the number one answer is monsters. Easy. Monsters live in space and they should eat people who go there.
But not just that. Space is also pitch black and inhospitable to stupid humans unless they show up with really kick-ass ships where the beds are pill-shaped plexiglass coffins pumped full of sleep-for-years gas and the doors are always futuristically gliding open or unexpectedly air-locking, subsequently vacuuming the lungs up and out of an unfortunate victim's skull. More importantly, space is full of probable doom, simultaneously holding hands with mystery and the possibility of ecstasy, oblivion or, if you're really lucky, both at once. Think about the ambiguous, glorious ending of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey or the head-scratching finale of Danny Boyle's underseen, under-appreciated, extremely messy Sunshine, the one where a malevolent force interrupts the mission of an international crew of really chill astronauts and it all winds up feeling like a Tiesto-headlining rave on the sun. Both of these films -- one a recognized classic, one just a personal favorite -- are weird as hell and I could watch both of them over and over. People wear neoprene body suits in movies like these because if the ecstasy and the oblivion go down they want to look very cool for the occasion.
More about monsters -- this is a Ridley Scott movie and therefore not much of a spoiler to tell you that its headlights are shining in the direction of 1979's Alien, yet whether or not you want to call it a prequel is your business. Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Idris Elba and Michael Fassbender, among others, are a crew hurling through the voluptuous void on their way to competing agenda items on their various to-do lists: science fact-finding, unfulfilled religious yearning, corporate dominance of everything and whatever it is that a mysteriously motivated cyborg like Fassbender is up to besides spending a lot of time mastering a precise impersonation of young Peter O'Toole. Then everybody's goals are interrupted by unfriendly forces. That's all you need to know for now.
Its the characters' battling interests, reflective of Scott and screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof’s scattered approach to storytelling, that unbalance the film, sending it through the script equivalent of an asteroid shower. Who are those other guys on the ship and what's their deal? Why don't we ever find out? What non-denominational spiritual question is the movie looking to answer besides, "Why are we here and how come we're not still ten-foot-tall, cloak-wearing, albino musclegods like the thing that shows up in the first scene?" What about those creatures that arrive and then disappear for good? And why oh why oh WHY does Noomi Rapace's scientist character think it's a smart idea to reach out and touch those snake-things? You never touch the snake-things.
But script potholes and logic blackholes aren't always how a movie lives or dies. Sometimes scale and sweep and gorgeous pessimistic hugeness, ice-cold beauty, disorganization and the refusal to answer questions form an unlikely but strongly defiant alliance and carry you along on a transcendent wave bigger than mechanics alone could manufacture. You don't always get what you think you want, but what you wind up with is still immensely satisfying. So you look for hard evidence and reasons for this or that and instead you get evil creatures with no interest in explaining their intentions. You look for God and you get infinite doubt. The tension remains unresolved. There's no victory in the void. And while you're still busy asking "Why?" something devours your entire face and decimates humanity.