From left, scientists Charlie Holloway and Elizabeth Shaw (Logan Marshall-Green, Noomi Rapace) and android David (Michael Fassbender) investigate the interior of a cave on a moon light-years away from Earth in “Prometheus.” The movie is a prequel to the “Alien” series, concerning a team seeking an extraterrestrial race believed to have created humankind.

Twentieth Century Fox/ Courtesy

From left, scientists Charlie Holloway and Elizabeth Shaw (Logan Marshall-Green, Noomi Rapace) and android David (Michael Fassbender) investigate the interior of a cave on a moon light-years away from Earth in “Prometheus.” The movie is a prequel to the “Alien” series, concerning a team seeking an extraterrestrial race believed to have created humankind.

‘Prometheus’ stirs up something provocative

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

“Prometheus”

3.5 out of 4 stars

124 minutes

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron and Idris Elba.

Now playing at the West Theatre

Who are we? Where do we come from? Why do we exist?

That endless line of questions doesn’t get a good answer from your parents when you’re 5 years old, and few people still have a decent response no matter the age of the asker.

Even if it doesn’t give a concrete explanation of the meaning of life, “Prometheus” goes further than we could’ve hoped in trying.

The year is 2093, and the time is an exciting point in the history of mankind.

After uncovering a common link in the creation beliefs of multiple Earth cultures, archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway (Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green) have determined exactly where in the universe they can meet face-to-face with God — or at least, the race of beings they believe are responsible for fashioning their entire world.

Aboard the space shuttle Prometheus, the scientist couple is joined by a team less enthusiastic about the biological breakthrough to which they could be privy and more interested in the money to be made from exploring a moon teeming with possibilities. The ship’s captain (Idris Elba) and a representative (Charlize Theron) of the expedition’s late benefactor (Guy Pearce) have little faith in Elizabeth and Charlie’s findings, but they are proven wrong about the barren rock on which they’ve landed when the team quickly uncovers plenty of evidence of an advanced alien culture that once frequented the planetoid.

However, the apparent lack of living life forms native to the moon leaves the group wondering what could have happened to the benevolent creators that once lived there. And, the details could be more than they can possibly handle.

As the woman at the center of everything, Rapace brings both a grounded sensibility and childlike wonder to the part of Elizabeth, who fully believes in the likelihood of both the reality of a deity and a race of aliens — termed “Engineers” — helping Him along in creating new life. Her atheist boyfriend’s convictions lie more in the realm of pure science, leading him to think their discovery can be easily controlled.

Yeah, because that’s how these stories always work.

Elba and Theron work finely as the superiors who each have their own motivations for being involved in such a project, though neither is quick to hint at what they might be beyond duty for him and business for her.

Speaking of a poker face, Michael Fassbender is a perfect blank slate as David, the android commissioned to assist the mission, with a personality completely studied from other humans, notably Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia.” Can a robot be trusted? Well, probably just as much as anyone else in this gathering.

It wouldn’t be an “Alien” movie without a shifty artificial life along for the trip, yet that’s not to say we’re getting the same old treatment in this tale that precedes the events of the feature in which we were first introduced to Ellen Ripley in Ridley Scott’s breakout hit as a director. There’s no trace of Sigourney Weaver, but there are a few nods to the horror classic such as the unforgettable chest-burster scene and perhaps more importantly, the discovery of those vile monsters.

Returning to the franchise for the first time since starting it, Scott takes us in an entirely new direction from Ripley’s adventures or the nonsense of “Alien vs. Predator.” Marc Streitenfeld’s thoughtful musical score — as well as some strains of Chopin — also helps whisk us away to a place that’s more about the curiosity of taking in new worlds rather than shooting the blazes out of everything in sight, though there’s certainly a time and place for that.

The title, which refers to the Titan of Greek myth who stole fire from the gods and was eternally damned for his daring, gives us an idea of the dangers involved in attempting apotheosis — the act of becoming a god — but also the lessons to be learned from Orpheus, Icarus, or in David’s case, Pinocchio. Yes, the android who wants to be a real boy is just as human as anyone else when he’s marveling at the light-up display of the universe, stylized as one gigantic atom.

You don’t need a microscope to know that there’s so much more than we see on the surface.

For many movies, the set-up for a sequel is something we might dread, but in the case of “Prometheus,” it’s something we almost demand. Scott’s reputation as a filmmaker who incites a cerebral response from his audience is more deserved now than it has been in 20 years, leaving us with only one request.

Please finish what you started and don’t let James Cameron take over again.

Now playing at the West Theatre

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