Predators (2010) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, gore and pervasive language
Running Time: 106 min.
Cast: Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali
Director: Nimrod Antal
Screenplay: Alex Litvak, Michael Finch
Produced by Robert Rodriguez (Grindhouse, Once Upon a Time in Mexico), who kicked around an idea for a Predator sequel for over 15 years before it was finally green-lit, and directed by thriller maestro Nimrod Antal (Armored, Vacancy), Predators is another half-cooked attempt to revive the sequel series, after Predator 2 killed off the first wave and the Alien Vs. Predator series failed to resuscitate interest a few years back. This entry alludes to the first Predator, the only good film in the Predator-verse, but exists mostly as a standalone entry, copying the format of the John McTiernan classic by having trained soldiers in the middle of a jungle being picked off one by one by an alien hunter. Or is that hunters?
The story starts off a little bit like TV's "Lost", by not cluing is in as to who or why these people are stuck in this place they just suddenly appear in, but the mystery is lifted pretty early not to constitute a spoiler, especially as it is so easy to guess by anyone with at least some knowledge of the Predator motivations. Goodbye "Lost", hello The Most Dangerous Game. The jungle in this case is some sort of game preserve, whereby human warriors of different backgrounds (soldiers, Yakuza, psycho maniacs, etc.) are (literally) dropped in and allowed to roam freely within the preserve confines while the predators gear up for the big hunt. Adrien Brody (Cadillac Records, Hollywoodland) stars as Royce, the de facto leader of the rag-tag group of strangers, each with his (or her) own deadly skill sets, trying to make sense of the world they are immersed in and what they have to do to get out of it.
Derivative to its core, the only thing a savvy action-adventure fan can do for entertainment from the storyline is guess the order by which these characters are going to be dispatched, who will ultimately survive, and which one will be the "Judas" and sell out his human brethren to save his own skin. You may not know the exact order, but you'll likely be very close, and as for the rest, it all proceeds exactly according to formula. The only surprise -- and it's only a surprise because it feels so out of place -- is the appearance of Laurence Fishburne (21, Bobby Z) right in the middle of the run time (briefly) as some sort of survivalist who adds a great deal of unnecessary exposition as to why the jungle exists and how things operate.
I'm of the opinion now, after four sequels/spin-offs, that there will never be another good entry after the first film without something akin to a complete overhaul. Trying to recreate the original film is futile, as the surprises of that story included not knowing what the predator looked like, his motivation, and his modus operandi until the story necessitates it. In these other films, we come into them knowing all of these things -- we know why the predator does what he does, we know his skills include thermal scanning and invisibility, and we know what he looks like unmasked. Without something new other than the setting, there are no surprises to be had, save perhaps that Adrien Brody, who obviously bulked up prior to taking on the role, might be believable as an action star.
The makers of these films seem to think we enjoyed Predator for the rampant impaling and explosions. Well, yes, those can be an asset when the action takes over, but what we really enjoyed were the actors, the character interactions, the mystery, the intrigue, the tight action sequences, and the pervasive sense of dread, This entry concentrates on the action, but there's little in the way of genuine mystery, the characters aren't as complex or intriguing, and there can be little dread when we're not invested in the story prior to letting the explosions and semi-pornographic skewering rip.
Predators sets itself up as the beginning of a new franchise, but if it's to continue as a series, it's doubtful it will be theatrical. The returns just aren't enough to justify. It isn't scary enough for most fans of horror, it's too familiar to appease lovers of science fiction, and even lovers of the first film will feel that without Arnie, solid cast chemistry, and a director who knows how to build up adequate suspense before mounting the action sequences, there's just no real reason to revisit the franchise. Perhaps only bad action junkies, the ones who regularly feast on late night junk TV cheese, will find it of interest, which is appropriate, as I can only see the films continuing from here on out as direct-to-video quickies or on the Syfy channel as an original movie or even a series. Hopefully any one of the options will add the level of complexity needed instead of just retreatdng the same old plot of having a bunch of thick-necked macho soldiers and a fiery Latina running from and shooting aimlessly at a mostly unseen enemy.
Another reboot and another missed opportunity. The best thing I can say for it is that it's the best of the Predator sequels. Given the quality of the other examples, that's faint praise indeed.
©2010 Vince Leo