– Summary –
Director : Nimród Antal
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Danny Trejo, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov.
Approx Running Time : 101 Minutes
Synopsis: A group of elite killers is dropped into a jungle to face off against one of Hollywood’s most fearsome killing machines: the Predators. Cue blood, effects and terror.
What we think : Slick, well produced sequel to the original Predator, Predators sticks to the formula that made the original great – but can’t come up with the goods as far as sheer impact goes. The cast are uniformly good in their roles, although they’re given short thrift in things like back-story and characterisation beyond the 1st dimension, but that’s not really why you watch a film called “Predators” is it? While Arnie might be smiling to himself while governating California, safe in the knowledge that Predators isn’t as good as the film he starred in, Predators will satisfy all those hard-core fans left bewildered by the stupidity of the Alien vs Predator movies, and it delivers what the title might indicate.
It’s fair to say that time hasn’t been particularly kind to the Predator franchise. The progenitor, Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is rightly considered a modern classic of the action/sci-fi genre, and it’s immediate sequel Predator 2, starring the less muscular Danny Glover, were poles apart in both execution and end result. Living like a boil on the ass of Fox’s main franchise properties, the Predator was whored out to appease the rabid fanboys with limp-dick success in Alien vs Predator, then virtually obliterated a few years back with the sequel to that, Alien vs Predator: Requiem, a film so shizenhousen I can’t even be bothered linking to our review of it. Indeed, the shadow of the Alien franchise had long obscured the storytelling quality of the Predator series, a series that had apparently very little going for it except a cool-as-hell monster and the ability to see in infra-red. Whereas the Alien franchise had continued to grow and expand (often to its own detriment), Predator had become stale as week-old bread. So when successful indie-director/producer Robert Rodriguez touted the idea of rebooting the Predator franchise, it got a lot of people excited. Rodriguez is an exciting director, one of those guys who understands that the art of film-making often becomes lost in the business of film-making – and he does what he can to rectify that. Grabbing hold of Hungarian-American director Nimród Antal, the man behind films such as Vacancy and Kontroll, Rodriguez began to work on giving us back a vibrant, fresh and truly terrifying Predator film. Did they succeed? Yes and no.
Predators sees the return of everyone’s second-favourite cinema alien, the Predator. Set before abominations such as Predator 2 and AVP ever took place, Predators is intended to be the true sequel to John McTiernan’s classic actioner. As such, some slight nods to the original film are included for fanboys to wet themselves over, however the film tries (and for the most part succeeds) in creating something entirely new at the same time. Royce (Adrian Brody, in his best chiseled-jaw mode) finds himself plummeting to the ground, his parachute opening only at the last minute. When he wakes after hitting the ground, he is surprised to find a number of other people, all carrying weapons, all from different sorts of lifestyles, all stuck with him. The group soon realise that they are being hunted, and Royce decides to find out who, or what, is doing the pursuing. As you’d expect, they soon discover the alien creatures capable of blending into their surrounds and stalking them with all manner of high-powered weapons, and must fight both the creatures and each other simply to survive. Working against them is the fact that a) they’re not on Earth, and b) they have no way of getting off the planet. Plus a limited supply of ammunition. Oh, and did I mention the giant alien killing machines? Them too.
The character, plot and even setting are a direct echo of the original Predator film, and while I understand Antal and Rodriguez may have wanted to keep a similar aesthetic to the Arnie’s exploits, here it seems a little too contrived and, well, copied. The jungle again? Really? Okay then. The cast consist of the most interesting looking folks around, including the always cool Dannny Trejo as a Mexican Drug Cartel enforcer, and the man with the most annoyingly large nose in all of Leading Man-dom, Adrian Brody. Brody’s bulked up for this role, as well he should, although he’s the first to admit that he’s no Ahnuld. Still, Brody’s Oscar winning acting talent goes for a breather with this film, with his character virtually as derivative as you could ask for… if you asked for derivative that is. He’s a hard-bitten, mysterious mercenary, self interest up front and self preservation the order of the day – which brings him into some conflict with token female of the piece Isabelle (Alice Braga), a sniper who has a very guilty conscience and is keen to atone for a past sin. The rest of the cast consist of your generic action-film fodder: a thick-set Russian, a Black African warlord, a death-row inmate, a Mexican enforcer, and Yakuza gang member, as well as Topher Grace’s bemusing doctor character, a character whose narrative arc consists of being scared shitless for the majority of the film before finding balls of steel right at the last. Of the entire cast, Grace’s is the most grating character in the film. The characters have large similarities to the group of soldiers and mercenaries of the original film, although here they aren’t working together – more like they’re working with each other.
If I can get the crappy bits of the film out the way first, I’d have to mention the simply diabolical scripting in this film. Some of the characters are written so poorly that you tend to think the script (by Michael Finch and Alex Litvak) was simply a series of Scrabble games the pair used to string together some words, plot points and characterisations. Nothing here is new, and nothing is even really fresh: as far as the plot goes, it’s a virtual carbon copy of the original film. A bunch of trigger-happy killers is placed in a jungle, figure out that they’re being hunted, and then try and survive. The basic premise is that simple. Everything else is simply fluff on the sides. The characters don’t get to say much that’s interesting, which I guess I’d have been surprised at had they actually started delivering a sonnet or something. It is a Predator film after all, and the best thing about Predator movies is the weapons, the killing and the weapons. Did I say that twice? Screw it. The dialogue, I guess that’s what you call a bunch of people standing about saying shit like “the jungle is moving” and “what the hell is/was that thing?” and shooting everything around them, tends to become a fuzz of casual swearing (which, I must admit, was a little like being hit in the face by a wet condom – in a film this slick the use of the F-bomb isn’t constant enough to become a dull roar, nor is it used sparingly enough to bring out the impact of when it is used, so the jarring way Adrian Brody, who delivered wonderful material for us in The Pianist, has to say F’ing this and F’ing that, is actually quite weird to hear) and half-baked genre cliches. Laurence Fishburne has a great time with his scenes, as a character stuck on the planet for a while now who, like Tom Hanks on that island with Wilson, has gone somewhat loopy.
If you expect much more than a simple action film out of Predators, you’d gonna be disappointed. The film does what it says on the box – it gives us Predators, and yes, they fight each other as well as the human prey. They do not disarm a nuclear weapon, battle evil wizards or outwit the fricking Decepticons: they’re Predators, for Pete’s sake. But the problem with this film, perhaps eerily similar to the blight on humanity that is the AVP films, is that beyond the story arc of the original film, there’s not much new to look at here. Sure, the filmmakers have given us variants on the same theme, dressed up the Predators with different suits of armour and whatnot; but a Volkswagen Beetle is still a Volkswagen Beetle even if you paint it red white and blue. It doesn’t matter how it looks, but it does matter what it does. Here, the Predators do the exact same thing as the previous film, only nowhere near as stylish.
Don’t get me wrong: Predators will delight even the most hard-core Predator fan for what it does right – it gives us our Predators back. Essentially retconning the original sequel and the AVP films out of existence, Predators does for the original what Aliens did to Alien. It adds an “s” on the end. Oh, and it attempts to give us more action. If you’re after a fairly cool looking action film, Predators will satisfy you. It’s got explosions, gunfire and stunts galore. There’s even a subtle hint by Fishburne to his debut role in Apocalypse Now – now that made me laugh. Nice touch. Danny Trejo gets killed off way too quickly for my liking, Oleg Taktarov tries and fails at something resembling character development as a Russian soldier, and Walter Coggins isn’t nasty enough for the role of the death row killer. For me, though, the films most jaw-dropping WTF moment is the plot development of Topher Grace’s doctor character late in the movie. It’s a twist in the film so far out of left field it’s almost circumnavigated the globe. In fact, it’s one of those twists that happen that just about destroys everything the film has thrown up until that point. I can kinda see why it was written into the film, but it feels more like a manufactured plot point rather than an organic one.
Overlooking things like character development, Predators is still a fairly entertaining film to watch. There’s not to much thinking to do, the visuals are all top class, and the various action beats are genuinely exciting. The numerous riffs on the original film are cool to spot, and while it must have been a terrifying balancing act to get that right, Antal does just enough to stop this becoming a slavish clone of Arnie’s original. John Debney must be praised for taking Alan Silvestri’s iconic percussion themes and giving them some new life. Why a composer of Debney’s talent was brought onto the project to essentially re-work Silvestri is baffling in itself, but his score is indeed appropriate for the story. Mention must also be made of DOP Gyula Pados excellent lensing of what must have been a problematic shoot – shooting in a jungle is fraught with danger: Mel Gibson encountered it in Apocalypto, and John McTiernan encountered it with Predator – the contrast between light and dark by the treetop canopy makes adequate lighting in jungle sequences inherently difficult. Yet Pados gives the film a well lit, dark toned, high contrast feel that allows us to see exactly what’s going on without sacrificing the lush views of the gorgeous green jungles. Dan Zimmerman does a fairly perfunctory job of editing the film, with even the action sequences having a somewhat made-for-TV feel to them. Any tension the film may have had is sucked out by vapid editing choices and a real lack of menace from some of the camerawork. The film’s main “jump” scene is predictable and tiresome in its execution, and I have to say I thought Rodriguez may have had more of a hand in this than he obviously did. The opening sequences are genuinely exciting, especially the pre-title opening with Royce plummeting to certain doom with a parachute that doesn’t work; but after that, the films pacing is a little off.
Working in the films favour is the fact that this is a Predator film – those giant alien monsters really are tough, scary sons-a-bitches, and Antal knows this. The Predator creatures are given front-and-centre focus during the films last half, where the humans are gradually being picked off one by one. The fact that we’re sitting back watching a film with the Predators as the leading creature (not like that awful AVP: Requiem) is enough cause to rejoice. The action, while perhaps a little mundane in its execution, is still better than average, and if you’re not particularly discerning you might even get right into it. More critical viewers will find plenty to pick on with this film, rightly or wrongly, although why you even bother being seriously critical with a film about giant alien killing machines on another planet with strange creatures looking like Avatar rejects seems counterproductive. Overall, a brainless, handsomely mounted return to pure Predator excitement – while I’m glad to see them back on the big screen, I had hoped it might have been with a bigger bang.