Predators(7/12/2010)

7-12-2010Predators

The 80s were full of action movies with macho dudes shooting everything that moves.  A lot of these movies were terrible, but a number of them have stood the test of time.  One of those movies was John McTiernan’s 1987 film Predator.  This movie doesn’t rise above other Schwarzenegger by adding a lot of smart subtext the way that a Total Recall did, and it doesn’t do it through sheer high budget production values like a Terminator 2 did.  The way Predator managed to rise to the top was a combination of McTiernan’s suspenseful filmmaking, a witty screenplay and through the assemblage of a memorable cast anchored by Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, and Sonny Landham.  More importantly it had a really cool alien in it with an iconic design by Stan Winston.

That creature (known to nerds as the Yautja and to others simply as the Predator) has long been linked to the Alien franchise, an association that eventually culminated in two horrible crossover films, but outside of that the Alien movies fared a lot better in the sequel department.  The first Alien film was followed up by the legendary sequel Aliens (whose plural title is borrowed by this film).  That film was followed up by a pair of problematic, but at least rather interesting sequels, unlike the Predator franchise which featured only the original film and a 1990 sequel (Predator 2 starring Danny Glover) which was at best a serviceable action film.  The new film Predators, is an a attempt to right that wrong and give fans the third sequel they deserve.  Wait a minute, a sequel?  Wow, it’s amazing how dignified a mere sequel feels like in this world of reboots, remakes, and uber-franchises.

The first Predator was set in a Central American jungle, the second in a near future Los Angeles, and this third film is set in a jungle on an Alien planet.  As the film opens, a bunch of unrelated people wake up in a freefall, landing on this planet and running into each other.  Among this crew are an American mercenary (Adrian Brody), a Mexican cartel member (Danny Trejo), a black oops sniper (Alice Braga), a Russian commando with a minigun (Oleg Taktarov), a Japanese Yakuza member (Louis Ozawa Changchien), an African civil war soldier (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a death row inmate (Walton Goggins), and a doctor (Topher Grace).  These people don’t know each other but they seem to have been choosen as a representative of the warriors of Earth.  After a short while the group comes to realize that they’re being hunted by something (not hard to guess what) and that they’ll need to work together in order to survive the ordeal.

A lot of people will point to the Alien Vs. Predator films as proof that crossover movies are an unworkable concept, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true.  I’d argue that those movies easily could have been good if they’d been made by people who were going to take their task seriously, but instead they got the property-hopping hack Paul W. S. Anderson to film the first one and a couple of inexperienced music video directors to direct the second.  Even worse, the two films were filled with sellout nonsense like the decision to make the first one a tame PG-13 effort and the decision to cast a bunch of teenagers in the second.  In short, the movies were both blatant cash-grabs made by people with minimal ambition because they knew they could make pretty much anything with these iconic creatures break even.  While there’s nothing in the filmography of Nimród Antal, director of this new Predator film, to indicate that he’s leagues above the AVP directors, but it’s clear from the moment the movie starts that he’s taking this assignment a lot more seriously than either of them.

First and foremost, this film has been given a much better cast than either of those AVP films, which were primarily filled with the kind of pretty-boys and models that seem to fill all too many horror movies these days.  Here we’re given a cast filled with tough guys like Danny Trejo, and each one of the characters in this ensemble are given a pretty effective getup as well.  It’s a well calculated mix of action movie types, much as the commando unit in the first Predator was.   The one problem with the cast is also the most prominent: Adrian Brody.  Brody is a good actor and I have no problem with someone like him being featured in an action film, but I do have an issue with someone like him trying to pretend that they’re Arnold Schwarzenegger when they’re not.  Brody is not a natural tough-guy and simply giving him a monotone voice and an attitude is not going to change that.

The film also has a really good sense of when to employ fan-service and when not to.  There are a number of nice homages and easter eggs here like the opening credits which are nicely replicated from the original film, or a moment where Adrian Brody kills a scorpion-like bug with a knife.  For the most part the film also knows not to overdo it with moments like that, for instance they never try to shoe-horn in a gratuitous utterance of the signature line “you are one ugly motherfucker,” or any other unoriginal one-liners.  All this gives the film a lot of “street cred” if you will.  This really feels like it was made by someone who cares about this series and wanted to give Predator the sequel it deserved.

I really want to say that this really is that great sequel that we’ve been waiting for, but it really isn’t.  While the film did build a lot of goodwill its first half, it squandered a lot of it in its second half, where a lot of the film’s novelty quickly wore off as the film began to be very darkly lit and at times rather claustrophobic.  I think the problem is simply that, unlike the original film, there’s no real mystery here.  The first Predator film didn’t even introduce the alien until well over a third into its running time and we didn’t really know the nature of the threat until the third act.  Here we already know what the Predators are and what they’re likely to do and deep down there aren’t really any new ideas being brought to the table.  Our heroes are slowly picked off, but the film never really builds into a truly standout adrenaline pumping action sequence.

When all is said and done, this was clearly a very well intentioned effort and it is definitely going to tide over fans of old-school action films until Stallone’s The Expendables drops.  It’s also going to provide some good creature thrills to those looking for a good matinee and it will give fans of the franchise something to chew on, but in the long run this is really only going to function as a footnote in the legacy of this series.

*** out of Four

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