This is a faithful prequel; everything you remember from John Carpenter’s The Thing is present and correct, and it ends on the same scene which opens the original, with two Norwegian people chasing down a dog in a helicopter.
Also, the Norwegians are all played by Norwegian actors and speak subtitled Norwegian. There’s nothing worse than watching a movie about Nazis, all of whom speak English with a German accent. None of that in this movie.
Also, it’s impressive for a Hollywood movie to cast an attractive woman without writing in any romantic or sexual overtones. Although it fails the Bechdel Test for patriarchal sexism, it’s still refreshing.
The bad news:
It suffers from the comparisons it invites to The Thing.
The structure of the movie is the same: a group of Antarctic researchers doing non-specific researchy things come across a shape-shifting homicidal alien who can take the appearance of any one of them in its sincere efforts to get into the general human population. The drama comes, as in Jaws and Aliens, not from watching how the monster kills everyone, but from watching the characters flop around like landed fish in the deep paranoid atmosphere they have created for themselves.
Unfortunately, all the good bits have already been done better in the original.
For instance, there is a scene in this movie where they notice that the alien can’t replicate inorganic matter, so if your amalgam fillings are still in your head, then you’re a human. Hence the picture above, where Mary Elizabeth Winstead shines a torch into everyone’s mouth and if they don’t have fillings, or if they have porcelain veneers, or if they just floss well, they’re put to one side as possible aliens.
Not a bad idea, but a much better idea was in the original. In that movie, they reasoned that as every single cell of the alien reacts reflexively to defend itself, a hot spike shoved into a blood sample would produce a reaction in the blood sample of the alien. Kurt Russell stabs each labelled blood sample with a hot needle until one of the samples reacts. One of these scenes has tension and drama, and one doesn’t.
Additionally, this movie forces you to ask the overall question of why it was made. The narrative function of the particular scene in the original movie which triggered this prequel, where they visit the burnt-out Norwegian camp, is three-fold:
It demonstrates that this thing managed to take out an entire camp almost identical to Kurt Russell’s.
It provides some background information on where the alien might have come from which, like all proper background information, ends up more of a mystery than an answer.
It acts as an anchor for the rest of the movie. You wonder how the hell this level of absolute damage and fiery mayhem could have happened; and then, over the course of the movie, you find out exactly how it happened. This has the dual effect of pushing your conjecture into the future, and pushing your memory into the past, which helps hold the movie together.
None of these functions invite a prequel. All the narrative functions have been served just by showing us the burned-out camp.
If someone loved this movie enough to make a prequel (and this is more of a homage to The Thing than a movie), then they should have made a new one starting where The Thing ended, when it would be entirely reasonable to assume that the black guy, who had been off-camera for some time, is the alien. I don’t know what would happen after that, but it would be something new and hopefully not completely pointless.
Never the mind! I’m still looking forward to Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s audacious prequel to his own Alien, which seems to be in roughly the same head-space as The Thing prequel. Don’t let me down, Ridley! I’ve been waiting for this thing for 20 years.