SPOILER WARNING: This article contains plot details for a new movie.
John McTiernan’s 1987 film PREDATOR was an original, fun film that blended the action, horror and sci-fi genres seamlessly and has gone on to be one of the most beloved (and quotable) genre films of the 1980s. Since then, Fox has been trying to figure out where to take the series next. What we’ve gotten since has been a below par sequel (PREDATOR 2) and two abominable ALIEN VS PREDATOR movies. With the backlash triggered by the AVP films, Fox has decided to take the ALIEN and PREDATOR franchises in other directions. With Ridley Scott working on two ALIEN prequels, Robert Rodriguez decided it was a good time to get a PREDATOR sequel off the ground.
Produced by Rodriguez and directed by Nimrod Antal (VACANCY, ARMORED), PREDATORS picks up after the first film, ignoring all the films that came afterwards. It follows a group of killers from different backgrounds (including Black Ops, Yakuza, snipers, etc.) that are captured and put on an alien game preserve planet to be hunted by the titular creatures.
Like PREDATOR, the story is about as simple as can be. Its basically PREDATOR meets THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME and there’s not much else to it. Apparently the film is based on an idea that Rodriguez had back in the 90s. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like he took all that time to develop it beyond its basic premise.
PREDATORS is an entertaining enough film, but it simply doesn’t want to take any chances. Every time it introduces something new or interesting, the film either retreats into a safe zone and rehashes the original or it just doesn’t explore it at all or. For example, it’s mentioned that there is a “blood feud” between two races of Predators. But instead of really exploring it, it’s just used as a weak excuse to have two Predators fight. It’s rather frustrating because that could have been a very interesting subplot. The whole film is filled with potentially great ideas like this, which makes it frustrating since they never go anywhere or truly serve the story.
They also introduce other creatures that have been captured and put on the planet to be hunted with the humans. After a big scene revealing the broken cages they were dropped in, they are barely seen or mentioned again after. (Interesting fact: these creatures were based on an unused design for the first Predator film.)
Unfortunately, the lost potential doesn’t end there. Some of the characters could have been done more justice than what the film gives them. The biggest example of this involves Laurence Fishburne’s character Roland Noland (yes, that’s actually his name) who has been there for “ten seasons” and has since lost his mind. His purpose in the story is simply to deliver exposition and tell Royce (our main character, played by Adrien Brody) about the Predators and a spaceship that could get them off the planet. And that’s all he does. He’s gone within 15 minutes after he appears. As fun as it is to see Fishburne talk to himself and act crazy, his split personality could have added a lot of suspense to the film if he had been working with Royce and co. throughout. Instead it’s just another half-baked idea that’s just there to move the plot from one point to another.
Edwin, the doctor played by Topher Grace is a similar case. I won’t give away specifics to avoid spoilers, but there’s a twist that involves his character that really doesn’t serve any function other than to have a last minute revelation. If this was introduced earlier in the film it could have added to the excitement and raised the stakes quite significantly. Instead it’s just a lazy last minute dues ex machina.
All of these things stem from the flawed script by Michael Finch and Alex Litvak. It’s too afraid to go into new territories and things just happen for no rhyme or reason other than to move things forward. For example, within minutes, Edwin cuts into a plant and identifies the liquid that’s bleeding out of it. It’s never once mentioned how this man could possibly know the biology of alien plants. This scene is there because the liquid from the plants comes into play towards the end. Instead of telling us how he could know this information, he knows just because the script calls for it at a later point. Also, Royce is constantly ten steps ahead of the rest of the characters (and the audience) and figures out where they are and what’s going on within the first 20 minutes. The film is just lazily written and that’s my biggest issue with it.
Now this isn’t to say the movie is all bad. I actually had fun watching it. Nimrod Antal’s direction shows signs of inspiration, even though he’s working with a shoddy screenplay. The action scenes really are terrific and are bound to have any Predator fan grinning from ear to ear. One of my favorite scenes was a samurai style duel between yakuza Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien) and a Predator. Its shot beautifully and actually provides us with something we haven’t seen in a film of this nature before. In fact, the cinematography throughout the whole film is pretty great. It also has a great score by John Debney and features John Silvestri’s theme song in all the right moments. The creature designs and effects (by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger’s KNB Effects) are fantastic. The Predator hasn’t looked this good since the original film.
The acting isn’t all bad either. Even though everyone is mostly playing paper-thin stereotypes, the actors actually do a pretty decent job with what they have. I wasn’t expecting Adrien Brody to be believable as a tough guy, but he actually pulls it off here. The dialogue really isn’t anything special (and is at times just plain bad), but the actors all play their characters straight enough to make us believe them. It’s just unfortunate that we aren’t given much time to know any of them.
I honestly think that this film could have benefited by keeping it focused on a smaller group of people. Instead we get some that are interesting and some that are throwaways. Characters like Roland, Hanzo, Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), and Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov) have some truly interesting moments, so having so much more time spent on boring characters like Edwin and Isabelle (Alice Braga in the typical “tough but sweet” female role) just makes everything seem like more of a waste. Not that the original PREDATOR had the best characterization, but those characters were definitely more fun to watch than this dull bunch.
Even with all of its flaws, PREDATORS still entertained me. I was expecting much worse, so I’m not unhappy that I went and saw it. This is by far the best film in the series since the original. PREDATOR 2 tried to do something different and it didn’t work at all. For this film, it’s obvious that they wanted to make it much more in line with the original film. Even though PREDATORS has enough quirks in it to differentiate it from the original movie, it still feels like a rehash. I honestly think this just proves that the concept of PREDATOR doesn’t have enough juice in it for more than one film.
The best thing I can say about this is that it feels like the only true sequel to PREDATOR, and I’m pretty that’s what Robert Rodriguez and Nimrod Antal were aiming for more than anything. I just wish they put more thought into it. It’s a valid sequel, but it just doesn’t do anything the original didn’t do better. To make a truly great sequel, you really have to expand on the mythology and change up the formula like James Cameron did with ALIENS (1986). Unfortunately, nobody seems to want to put forth the effort to do that with a Predator movie. If there is a sequel, let’s hope they really expand this.
When it comes down to it, my reaction to PREDATORS is similar to my reaction to SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD. It’s a fun b-movie, but it doesn’t really do anything that hasn’t already been done better. But the thing that makes PREDATORS an especially frustrating experience is that there are so many great ideas that aren’t given a chance to develop. It just never feels like the script tries to do anything but perform the basic function of moving the plot from point A to point B. It doesn’t care about characterization or story telling.
I realize that these are b-movies meant to be a good time, and I honestly did have fun with this one. I realize that seems like a backhanded compliment, but for all its faults, the film was never boring. There are enough good action sequences to make the film worth seeing at least once for any die-hard Predator fan. However, PREDATORS really isn’t anything you need to go out of your way to see and it probably won’t be very re-watchable (especially if you have the original film handy).