Reviewed by Buz "Danger" Wallick
Starring Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Danny Trejo, Derek Mears
Directed by Nimrod Antal
Let's just cut to the chase: The Alien vs. Predator movies have given us all (with taste anyway) the film equivalent of having diarrhea and being forced to shit into a bowl of boiling hot chili filled with piranhas. In other words we were violated. This fanboy was ready to give up hope and accept the fact that both the Alien and Predator franchises were dead and we would never experience such joys ever again. Happily I can report I was dead wrong.
Robert Rodriguez and Nimrod Antal's Predators is pure action sci-fi at its best. While it is not without flaws, Predators is certain to please a general audience and make the fans squeal with excitement and nostalgia.
READER, BEWARE; THERE BE A FEW SPOILERS AFOOT!
The movie opens with a bang or, more accurately, a fall. Royce (Brody) wakes up suddenly, confused and shocked to see himself plummeting to the ground from an incredible height and at an incredible speed. With just seconds before certain death, he hits a strange button on his chest that ejects his parachute, and he crash lands through the trees into a foreign jungle. We’re then hit with the title: PREDATORS. The breakneck pace of the opening is just a small tease of what is to come.
The best thing Predators has going for it is the characters. The biggest problem with most horror/action/sci-fi films these days (and even more relevant, the previously mentioned AVP films) is the lack of memorable characters or character development. In the original Predator we got to know most (if not all) of the characters. They had their own stories and backgrounds, and each one was interesting to watch. Now finally someone at Fox understands that and the benefit it was to the franchise. Nearly every character in Predators is interesting and entertaining to watch in his or her own right. Even if they truly are horrible human beings. You can’t help but sympathize with these human predators because you so badly want them to succeed against a force that is far worse. I would honestly go as far to say that the Japanese yakuza Hanzo (played marvelously by Louis Ozawa Changchien) is probably in my top five favorite characters of the whole series. He’s right up there with Mac and Billy. So major points to writers Alex Livtak and Michael Finch for delivering the goods.
And huge props to the actors who gave all these characters life. Everybody puts in a great effort, and it pays off in spades. Especially the likes of Danny Trejo (playing Cuchillo, which is Spanish for “butterknife”), Laurence Fishburne as the stranded (and slightly crazy) Noland, Oleg Taktarov as the Russian special forces soldier (with a mini gun) Nikolai, and of course Adrien Brody as mercenary Royce. Everyone else is great as well (yes, even Mr. Topher Grace is good); it's just that those previously mentioned happen to be my personal favorites in the film.
Speaking of favorites, the original Predator and Predator 2 scores by Alan Silvestri are two of the best scores of all time. There was something very tribal and raw about the sound of those movies, and Predators composer John Debney gets it. Not only is he able to keep Silverstri’s unique score of the original movies, but he mixes it in an updated and inventive way. If you don't know Silvestri wasn't involved in Predators, you would think he did the composing himself.
In addition, the direction, cinematography, and editing are all top-notch. There was some worry on the fans' part about Nimrod Antal taking the reins on Predators, mainly because he isn't an especially established director and he's working with a very established franchise; however, he proves himself and delivers some stellar action scenes with fantastic pacing and not crazy jumpy editing where you can’t see what’s going on. Thankfully there's no shakey cam here. Also, the fact that you can't really tell that this movie was shot on HD and not film will blow your mind. It looks so close to film that I guarantee you'll have a hard time telling the difference. Pay close attention, and you'll notice one specific shot that I have not been able to get out of my head for the past week. It's an overhead shot of a calm field, at night, with grass blowing in the wind and two very distinct and determined warriors sizing each other up. Even if you hate everything else about the flick (or even the franchise in general), this scene alone is worth the price of admission. Without spoiling it too much, here's one hint: samurai sword.
Now for the true hunters of Predators. While the predator in AVP:R was a step up from the Down syndrome versions that were in AVP, it still wasn’t anything close to Stan Winston’s masterpieces from Predator and Predator 2. Thankfully, KNB EFX Group came through and delivered some extremely kickass predators and creatures. Especially the newly designed Super Predator, which has a completely fresh and badass new look. While this new breed of alien is very similar to the old, there are a lot of differences. As Royce points out in the film, “The way a wolf looks different than a dog.” While some will love the classic predator, which is affectionately featured (and awesomely portrayed by genre favorite Derek Mears) more, the new predator design is still terrific. While the predator hounds are very obviously CGI, their design and ferociousness make a very cool addition to the overall mythos. And even the original design of the predator in the first film (as seen in the behind-the-scenes) makes a quick cameo as one of the planet's indigenous creatures. Also, Brian Steele and Carey Jones deserve a special shout-out for their performances as the Mr. Black Predator and Beserker Predator, respectively. They’d make Kevin Peter Hall proud.
Unlike in AVP:R, the homages are not overdone and nauseating. Throughout Predators there are a few nods to the original film, and of course the classic “motherfucker” line is used, though personally I think it's in the wrong place. All in all, it’s obvious the filmmakers have a great love for their source material.
Now for the bad. The movie at times can get a bit predictable. From the very moment all the characters are introduced, you know something is up with a certain character and it’s pretty obvious what the twist will be even though it isn’t revealed until the last 15 minutes of the movie. And while Alice Braga turns in a good performance, her character is mostly by the numbers -- the sympathetic voice of reason who’s a hard ass but has a heart of gold. And of course you know which two characters are going to survive to the end. Nonetheless, that doesn’t make it any less fun of a ride getting there. Honestly, did any of us think anybody but Arnold was going to be facing off with the Predator in the original? A complaint, yes, but a very minor one.
Speaking of facing off, I don’t want to spoil too much, but if Arnold can’t physically take on the Predator, how in the hell can Adrian Brody? That was definitely a little unbelievable, but in a movie about alien hunters killing humans for sport on another planet, it's acceptable. Other than that, it's too bad there wasn't more of the predators messing with the humans. They do their voice copycatting here and there, but it would have been nice to see just a little bit extra. Overall, though, Predators is a kickass entry into the franchise with plenty of blood, guts, testicle punching action, spine ripping goodness, and a whole lot of Predator badassery. It’s easily the best summer movie of the year thus far, and it will definitely be an absolute blast to see in a crowded movie theatre.
While the original is still the best and Predator 2 will always hold a very special place in my heart, Predators is a worthy sequel that merits being seen on the big screen. It certainly wipes the dirty taste of the bad sequels out of our mouths and should guarantee a great many Predator fans out there will be havin’ some fun this Friday night.
4 out of 5
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