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Predators: A Trophy Worth Collecting?

Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageHave Robert Rodriguez and Nimrod Antal returned this franchise to its former glory?

I’ve written in the past about my opinion that Commando is the “ultimate” Arnold Schwarzeneggar action movie. But Predator is probably my favorite, and IMHO, the best action film the soon-to-be-ex-Governator ever made. Predator 2 took the action out of the jungle and into an urban, near-future setting, and, in the process, lost something. With the exception of a few high notes (most notably, perhaps, the glimpse of an alien – as in chest-bursting, “get away from her you bitch!” alien – skull in a predator trophy room that launched the Alien vs. Predator crossover), the sequel was a mediocre followup.

Speaking of wasted opportunities and failed adaptations, let’s touch for a moment on the AVP films. Thanks in large part to the filmmaker-who-shall-not-be-named (hint: he’s the Anderson with no talent), AVP: Alien vs. Predator and AVPR: Alien vs. Predator – Requiem (gawd, even the titles are stupid) very nearly killed both franchises.

Enter Robert Rodriguez and his attempt to pull off a cinematic resurrection of the Predator franchise with a proper sequel to the 1987 hit, in part based on a screenplay he wrote back in the early 90’s. The result is more flawed reanimation than rejuvenation, a Frankenstein’s monster of a film stitched together with existing set pieces, scenes, and lines of dialogue from the first movie and some new characters and ideas. A valiant and not altogether wasted effort, more homage than true sequel, but in the end a film that can’t live up to the original. My full review follows, though be warned, some SPOILERS are included.

Predators opens with Royce (Adrien Brody), an ex-special forces turned mercenary, unconscious and in freefall. After a violent awakening, a parachute opens to bring him roughly, but safely to the ground. He is soon joined in similar fashion in a lush jungle by other unsavory characters, including a Mexican drug cartel enforcer (Danny Trejo), a Yakuza assassin (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a Sierra Leone death squad officer (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a Russian commando (Oleg Taktarov), a death row inmate (Walton Goggins), an Israeli Defense Force block ops sniper (Alice Braga), and a seemingly innocuous physician (Topher Grace).

Predators is sluggish in the early going, and I found myself impatiently waiting for this group of anti-heroes to catch up and figure out where they are and what their situation is, things I, and presumably most in the audience, knew before the the house lights dimmed. They slowly gain insight into their predicament, the first bit coming as the realize they are not anywhere on Earth, but apparently on a moon orbiting Jupiter.

Before long the predators make their presence known, sort of. Predator “dogs” (though aside from running on four legs they look nothing like dogs) are the first means of attack, reducing the number of prey by one. Soon after Royce employs a strange bit of logic to assert that if they run, they’re dead. Their only chance is to confront, fight, and kill the dogs’ masters.

Following the dogs’ tracks leads them to a strange camp, where they find a familiar looking (to the audience, at least) predator, sans mask and weapons, strung up in chains. As the group comes to grips with this alien encounter, three predators make a proper introduction, launching a surprise attack with the aid of their cloaking technology and managing to kill another member of the group, before the rest make their escape. The predators uncloak, allowing us to see that they appear to be much larger and more menacing than the chained predator, wearing helmets adorned with trophies and decorations. Meet the super predators.

Soon after the group meets an old Air Cavalry soldier named Noland (Laurence Fishburne) who takes the group to his hideout. What follows is a scene filled largely with exposition and a side of character development. Noland explains that there are two kinds of predators, akin to dogs and wolves, that have been having some sort of blood feud (what the real nature of their conflict is, or how Noland knows this is left conspicuously unexplained). It’s the wolves (super predators) that are hunting them, and have been for as long as Noland as been around, always in groups of three.

Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that the super predators discover the hideout and attack. Our anti-heroes make an escape; two sacrifice themselves and manage to kill two of the super predators. In the end, it comes down to a one-on-one battle between Royce and the last super predator. I’ll not reveal how the film ends, but it does end leaving open the possibility for a sequel (though IMHO this particular well will rapidly go stagnant).

I mentioned Predators is almost more homage than sequel. It’s not unlike Superman Returns, or perhaps more accurately, Terminator Salvation.  It’s obvious Rodriguez and Antal have a deep love for the original film, as evidenced by their repeated references to Predator. To wit, they use the same musical score, lift familiar lines of dialogue (“Over here”, “turn around”, etc.), and nearly recreate scenes from the original (blindly firing a minigun into the jungle, escaping predators by sliding down and off a cliff to a lake below, using mud to conceal body heat, and more). I feel like their intentions were sound (shout-outs to fans as if to say, “See! We love the original too!”), but these sent up a red flag, or to paraphrase our own Tony Lazlo in talking about Terminator Salvation, “I suspected that McG Rodriguez and his creative team were merely pinging a pleasure center in my brain to distract from the movie’s shortcomings.” Namely:

The setting doesn’t make any damn sense. Okay, so it becomes clear during the course of the film, though it’s never explicitly stated, that the movie takes place on a moon of Jupiter. At least, I’m convinced it’s Jupiter. Makes sense, considering the predators have set up a “game preserve” to hunt humans. However, several things make no sense to me:

1) Humans are not the only lifeforms brought to the preserve to be hunted, which means that the predators are bringing other aliens across what has to be interstellar distances. That seems like an awful lot of time and energy invested for hunting (even if it is their way of life), especially considering they apparently make “deliveries” almost continuously. And only three predators make use of this at a time?

2) Given that other non-human lifeforms are brought to the preserve to be hunted, and as evidenced by the fact that the predators themselves don’t breathe the same atmospheric mix as humans, how is it that what works to keep us alive allows for viability of other aliens?

3) How the hell has humanity not discovered this place? From Hubble and other space telescopes to Voyager 1 and Pioneer 10, how could the predators keep a moon of Jupiter, evidently terraformed to not only support life, but teem with it, a secret? For that matter, how does this place have Earth-level gravity, and how did they terraform it in the first place?

The humans are a little too smart. Whereas the characters in the original film didn’t have a clue as to what the hell was going on until damn near the end (and only then a vague clue), Royce makes inferences and deductions by leaps and bounds, almost too quickly figuring out what is going on. How can I complain about this, given that earlier I voiced impatience with the pace of the group figuring things out?

It goes to a problem with all of the Predator-related sequels. In every movie, a new group of humans encounters the predators for the first time, and we have to wait around for them to catch up. Do so too slowly, and it can be frustrating; too quickly and it feels contrived. It’s something the Alien sequels never suffered from, given that Ripley was a recurring protagonist who knew the situation and the stakes from the beginning.

But it’s not all bad.  Allow me to offer some praise:

Adrien Brody makes a surprisingly good action hero. There was likely a good deal of doubt when Brody was first announced as the hero of this film. Obviously the Austrian Oak he isn’t. But he has a lean, wiry build and a toughness that is likely more in line with the modern soldier than Arnold’s physique. He’s a cynic, a reluctant leader, a survivor, and it works.

The super predators are a fine addition to the mythos. The Predalien of AVPR (like much in that film) was a waste of creature effects. The super predators (as they’re called in the script and credits) may sound a bit hokey, but come off rather well. I found myself wanting to know more about them, their relationship to the regular predators, and how they fit into that whole society. I just hope this doesn’t mark the beginning of a trend for increasingly badass versions of predators to “up the ante” in future sequels.

In the end, Predators is a typical late summer action flick. It breaks no new ground, and does more good than ill. It certainly redeems the missteps of the AVP films and brings the Predator franchise back into something resembling good favor. It can’t live up to the original, hard as it tries, but then I never expected it to.

So go watch and enjoy it. Then go home and watch the original to see how it’s really done. And remember, if it bleeds, we can kill it.