John McTeirnan’s original Predator was a legitimate action classic, and one of star Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best-remembered films. It was followed by a mostly forgotten (perhaps unjustly so – it was decent enough) Schwarzenegger-less sequel and two Alien vs. Predator films, which are better off forgotten (even though the second one really, really tried).
There are no Aliens in Nimród Antal’s Predators, but it taps into that franchise anyway, and earns the ‘s’ in the title: this sequel is to McTiernan’s original what James Cameron’s Aliens was to Ridley Scott’s Alien.
It’s a ridiculously entertaining ride, a self-knowing but straight-faced throwback to the days of over-the-top 80s machismo and 70s grindhouse exploitation, shot fast and cheap but with care and vision.
The opening frames literally drop us into the action: protagonist Royce (Adrien Brody) wakes up in a freefall, spiraling towards an unnamed planet and clutching for the release on a parachute he finds conveniently strapped to his back.
He lands in a jungle amongst Isabelle (Alice Braga), Edwin (Topher Grace) and others, mostly military types and killers armed to the teeth. They all have one thing in common, they have no idea where there are, or how they got there. “We’re in hell,” one remarks. Seems plausible.
This opening recalls Cube, or an episode of The Twilight Zone; there are endless ways to take the story. Of course, having walked into a movie called Predators, we’re a few steps ahead of the characters: this is more The Most Dangerous Game. Cages, traps, dead bodies lying around – they’re being hunted by the titular creatures, hefty alien beings who use cloaking devices and plasma guns and see based on heat signature.
This time around, they have tusked Predator hunting dogs, too. We know exactly where Predators is headed, but it’s all about the ride – which is wild stuff. There’s no shortage of flaws here – problems with pacing, characterization, logic (why do they keep running away – they have a clear shot!) – but all somehow forgiven as this breathlessly violent, frequently hilarious (in that is-it-intentional? kind of way) sci-fi fantasy action film won me over with a knowing wink.
They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Brody, seven years removed from his Oscar win for Polanski’s The Pianist, might seem like an odd choice for an action hero. But by the end, he has morphed into Schwarzenegger (wait – is that a compliment?)
Walton Goggins, typecast as a redneck sonuvabitch, steals his scenes as a lightly-armed death row inmate. As does Laurence Fishburne, who shows up as a half-loony survivor. “You’re one ugly mother”
The original Predator notoriously never looked all that great, serving up multiple unsatisfactory home video versions including two blu-rays that have been outright rejected. In homage to this, perhaps, Predators looks even worse: incredibly dark, grimy, gritty, and hazy at almost every turn. In one scene, smoke causes an uproar, but I could barely detect it on the screen. Maybe the bulb in the projector at my theater was just set too low.
Director Antal garnered acclaim for his festival favorite thriller Kontroll before coming to Hollywood and churning out a couple of B pictures in Vacancy and Armored, both of which were better than they should have been.
Predators, too, is a thoroughly solid B picture, produced by Robert Rodriguez through his Troublemaker Studios; it’d make a great half of a Rodriguez/Tarantino Grindhouse-style double bill. Advance promotion seems to have been especially light for a franchise film like this, but it will find it’s (cult) audience soon enough.