Given the overwhelmingly negative reaction the last time we saw everyone’s favourite alien hunters, in 2007’s execrable Aliens vs Predator – Requiem, it is somewhat surprising to see them back up on the big screen so soon. Though both AVP films failed to capture anyone’s imagination, they did prove there was still a wide audience interest in seeing both extra-terrestrial bad guys. 20th Century Fox did the sensible thing and went back to basics, divorcing their long-running sci-fi franchises with the intention of rebooting them. An Alien prequel directed by Ridley Scott is now in the works, but a stand-alone Predator sequel had a headstart with a 1994 script written by a young Robert Rodriguez, then hot off his debut movie El Mariachi. It was dusted off and passed back to the Texan filmmaker with instructions to revive the franchise in return for creative control of the product.
Predators is Predator 3 in all but name, referencing the original film in several places (the unjustly maligned Predator 2 is more or less ignored) while offering some new insights in to those ugly mother*cough*ers. The film opens with a bang, as Adrien Brody’s mercenary Royce awakens in mid-air, plummeting towards the ground with a parachute that hasn’t yet opened. It’s a dramatic start that eschews the slow building tension of John McTiernan’s original Predator. From there, things progress as expected; other soldiers of varying skills (sniper, heavy weapons, yakuza, death squads, etc.) are also dropped in, and this band of cutthroats slowly come to realise that they are being hunted by an enemy far more powerful than anything on Earth.
The original Predator, fine entertainment though it is, is certainly no masterpiece. The script is chock-full of cheesy (but memorable) one-liners, its characters are barely two-dimensional and the plot is simply a re-dressed B-movie staple: nasty alien picks people off one by one. It was McTiernan’s expert direction that elevated it above its humble origins. Predators is perhaps even more of a B-movie than its progenitor: equally two-dimensional characters, evidence of a tight budget and added gore to cover any gaps in the story logic. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on your own personal taste.
There’s little time spent in getting to know any of the characters, including Royce – he’s not as sympathetic as Schwarzenegger’s Dutch, being quite happy to abandon his fellow humans to save his own neck (which to be fair is what most people would do, but doesn’t make for a memorable hero). The rest of the cast aren’t much better, save perhaps the lone female human, Alice Braga’s Isabelle, who shows hints of compassion towards the end. Plot logic takes a back seat on a couple of occasions; just how Isabelle know so much about the events of the original film is perhaps best not examined too closely. In an attempt to claim its place as the one true sequel, Predators pays tribute to scenes from the original just once too often. So we get a couple of lines here, a couple of set-pieces there that serve to take you out of the movie rather than letting the film be its own thing – something which Predator 2 at least managed to achieve.
But we didn’t come to see Predators for nuanced characters or watertight plots; we came for some good old-fashioned monster bashing, and it’s pleasing to report we certainly get that. Predators lives up to its title in more ways than one, referring not only to the hunters but also their prey. The aliens here are not the same as the ones seen in earlier films, a sensible move on the part of Rodriguez to try and keep things fresh. Moving the action away from Earth also helps prevent the story from simply repeating the earlier pictures. Director Nimród Antal (Vacancy) keeps the action and suspense nicely ticking over, even if he never reaches the heights that McTiernan wrung from the premise. There’s enough oozing and spurting to keep the horror crowd happy as well.
Livening up proceedings midway is a marvellously off-kilter cameo from Laurence Fishburne as a survivor from a previous hunt. Exuding more charisma than the rest of the survivors combined, he gives the film renewed wind in its sails. By the time the climax comes, quibbles are laid aside as the pleasingly old-fashioned action and effects take centre stage. It doesn’t re-invent the sci-fi or horror genres, but Predators does exactly what it says on the tin – no more, no less.