Avastly enjoyable and satisfying slice of high-quality sci-fi.
I wuld recommend watching the 'viral' videos on the web before seeing this, as they're intended almost as warm-up extras and significantly enhance the experience, a little like a good Extra on a DVD.
Opening with epic swathes of landscape photographed with the equivalent skill of Yann Arthus-Bertrand, and then entering scenes of serious sci-fi with cutting edge character design, it clear from the outset that this is intended to be 'proper' science fiction in the vein of the original Alien, and less like it's more frivolous sequels. The humour is brief and the performances serious. Best among them are Noomi Rapace's wonder-filled scientist 'Shaw' and her slightly more impulsive partner 'Charlie', played with a nice degree of complexity by Logan Marshall-Green. Scott has peopled his ship's crew with memorable individuals, and all but a pair of the characters have enough time and personality to stick in the memory. Charlize Theron is excellent as cautious corporate ice-queen 'Vickers', and Michael Fassbender again shows astounding talent and versatility as 'David'. I was concerned he would be wasted as a side character but Scott and the writers have had enough sense to get him thoroughly involved in most of the scenes, making him the most quiky and interesting android of the Alien series.
The plot itself is consistently interesting and doesn't take the expected route in anything but its broader sweeps. The characters' actions are often dictated by common sense or personality, and their encounters with the weird environment they're exploring feel wonderfully convincing. The set design is awesome, harking back to Alien in subtle ways, but also advancing it with exciting new designs and gorgeous visuals. Scott and co have also had the dry humour to riddle the film with a scattering of in-jokes, from lines "WE ARE LEAVING!!!" to shots that hark fleetingly back to the first two Alien movies for the fans. A piece of the ending also shares a brief and clever structural similarity with a piece of the ending of Alien in a way that feels like a welcome tip of the hat, not a lack of ideas in a film that's packed full of nice fresh ones.
In terms of the horror and the action, there's a lot, but happily it's steeped in emotion and character to make the peril more keenly felt. I don't want to ruin any surprises so I'll just say: chases occur, things attack, blood flows, some squirm inducing injuries happen, and forms of nasty alien peril make the expedition go badly pear-shaped.
In terms of tension, the scenes are fantastically designed and often terrifying.
In terms of overall rating, this may be the best sci-fi horror of recent years for it's skillful blend of sheer quality, depth, story, design, acting and direction. Like The Dark Knight, it will take more than one viewing just to soak it in properly. And while that ending may not feel quite like the story's over, and that a sequel may be intended, it deserves to take it's place in the sci-fi pantheon as a Masterpiece.