January 26, 2016

Predators (2010)

A disparate group of soldiers, mercenaries and criminals are dropped via parachute into a jungle. After resolving their distrust of one another and agreeing to work together, they soon discover they are no longer on the planet Earth - and that something invisible and alien is stalking them. A race is on to escape, survive and somehow manage to get off the jungle planet before the Predators kill them all.

Twenty years after Predator 2 came and went to disappointing results, and three years after Alien vs Predator 2: Requiem crashed at the box office, producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimród Antal collaborated to make an all-new Predator film. The title makes their ambition pretty obvious: just like Aliens expanded on the potential of Alien to create an expanded and thrilling new experience, so too Predators would take the promise of the original and push it into bolder, broader, new directions.

If only that ambition had translated to reality; we could have really had something.

Predators is not a bad film, but at the same time it is not a very good one. Its greatest crime is that it is entirely superficial. Characters are the way they are not because of the story but because somebody thought they would look cool that way. People make choices and take actions not because they are logical but because they would lead to a cool moment, or an exciting action sequence. Most obviously of all the film sits enthusiastically beneath the original Predator's shadow. If there is a method of echoing the film Predators takes it. If there is a chance to repeat a line of dialogue, or replicate an action beat, it does not hesitate. The result of this approach is an illogical, gaudy nonsense, one so in love with its source material that it mostly forgets to do anything exceptionally new.

The idea of a group of professional killers thrown together has merit, but Alex Litvak and Michael Finch's screenplay does not think on the concept beyond a few tired stereotypes. There's the quiet, soft-spoken Clint Eastwood-style mercenary (Adrien Brody using a very silly voice). There's the submachine gun-toting Mexican cartel gangster (Danny Trejo). There's the death row murderer (Walton Goggins). Alice Braga's special agent is the only woman in the film, and her role simply feels like a deliberate echo of Elpida Carrillo's in the original film. Most ridiculous of all is the Yakuza enforcer (Louis Ogawa Changchien), who somehow finds a katana on an alien planet and challenges one of the Predators to a sword fight. He's the most egregiously racist of the film's various characters - every time he appears on screen, John Debney's score throws in a few clichéd Asian sounds to remind us all of his ethnic background. It is odd that Debney gets sole credit for the music, since pretty much every key melody is lifted directly from Alan Silvestri's Predator score.

The only real stand-out among the cast is Laurence Fishburne, who plays a man who has survived several seasons on the planet and has already killed at least two Predators. He is under-used, however, and his role ends too soon and very abruptly. It is a wasted opportunity.

The Predators themselves are not as impressively presented as they are in earlier films. Predators makes the mistake of trying to introduce a second sub-species of Predator, which is even taller, with larger heads and bigger mandibles. It simply makes them look silly: the original design was already highly effective, and this film simply over-eggs the pudding. Too much of everything, not enough thought to back it up.

To its credit Predators is at least a pretty film. The jungle setting is well exploited, and the photography showcases it well. It is also well edited, and much of its action superbly choreographed. It just simply is not in aid of anything particularly good. In the end the film will appeal to the die-hard fans of the franchise, who simply want another chance to watch mandibled lizards chase some mercenaries around a jungle for an hour or two. For everyone else it is simply a wasted opportunity. There is so much to explore with the Predators - their origins, their culture, how they operate in different contexts - and Predators by-and-large abandons all of it in favour of giving the audience more of the same. After 20 years between solo Predator films, that seems like a let-down.

If Predator was a simple story told exceptionally well, and Predators was a more interesting story told in a mediocre way, then Predators is the original story re-told 23 years later - just not as well as it was told the first time around. There is apparently a fourth Predator in development, but to date it has yet to surface. Hopefully it will bring something new to the table.

The Alien/Predator Rewatch
Alien (1979, d. Ridley Scott.) (review)
Aliens (1986, d. James Cameron.) (review)
Alien³ (1992, d. David Fincher.) (review)
Alien Resurrection (1997, d. Jean-Pierre Jeunet.) (review)
Predator (1987, d. John McTiernan.) (review)
Predator 2 (1990, d. Stephen Hopkins.) (review)
Predators (2010, d. Nimród Antal.)

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