Hollywood Preys on the Past Again
The 30 Second Review
A group of strangers are dropped (literally) into an unknown jungle only to discover that they share two things in common: they are each considered dangerous by society and they have no recollection of how they arrived above the jungle. The group of soldiers, mercenaries, criminals, and a seemingly out of place doctor soon realize they are being hunted as sport. After receiving valuable information from the survivor of a previous hunt, the group attempts to capture a ride home from their hunters, culminating in a showdown between the leader of the hunters and the leader of the group. Throughout Predators, viewers are treated to plenty of action and a generally fast pace.
The Detailed Review
Full disclosure notice: I love this franchise, and harbor strong feelings about it. Since the first time I saw the steroid induced handshake in the late 1980s, I have eagerly awaited each subsequent installment in hopes that it will attain even a fraction of the testosterone fueled ass kicking awesomeness of the first movie. Sadly, Alien Versus Predator dented my enthusiasm, and then Aliens Versus Predator: Requiem took what esteem I still had for the series and exploded it out of me with diarrhetic fury. So when the poster for Predators appeared in my local movie theater, it took a few months for me to come around to watching it. My hopes sprang anew when the disc loaded and the background music began to play the theme music from the original Predator. Then I hit play ...
*Begin Spoiler Warning*
Predators opens at a fast pace. Actually, at about 9.2 ft./s squared, because the movie opens with Adrien Brody's character (we later learn his name is Royce) plummeting towards a tree covered expanse from the heavens. Initially unconscious, he awakes (and I'm guessing probably soils himself), and finds an unfamiliar parachute strapped to his back. After a hard landing in the jungle setting, he is soon joined by a group of other only recently awakened jumpers. With the exception of Edwin (Topher Grace's character), each of the arrivals represents some kind of aggressive, dangerous military or paramilitary group or other similarly dangerous profession. There is a Spetsnaz member plucked from Chechnya, a Mexican drug enforcer (big surprise, Trejo's character), a well-dressed Yakuza, an American sniper (Alice Braga's character), and a handful of others, including a death row convict armed only with a shiv. The others are all still carrying the equipment they were holding when abducted from the previous locale.
Fans of the original Predator probably already have alarm bells going off in their mind. Five minutes into the movie we have a group of heavily armed professional killers isolated in a jungle against an unknown entity. Sound familiar? Believe me, this trend of mimicking the original continues, and becomes more unabashed as the movie progresses.
After fighting off a group of small dinosaur looking animals, the group pieces together (with the assistance of a few serendipitous encounters with items in the jungle) that they are being hunted. Royce, taking the lead as alpha male, determines that the dinosaur creatures must be “hounds” to flush them out. The group follows his lead and begins backtracking the small creatures. This brings them to the camp of the Predators, where they discover a live one chained in the middle of camp. As you may have guessed, the Predators are camouflaged with their crazy light bending technology, and set upon the group from the perimeter of the camp. The group takes off through the jungle wildly and ... I didn't believe it either ... falls off a conveniently placed cliff into a jungle river, thus escaping the inevitable slaughter. That's right, they get away from the Predators by falling off a big cliff into a pool of water. Sounding more familiar now? This is exactly how Dutch (Schwarzenegger's character) escaped certain doom at the hand of the original Predator. The shot is almost identical.
After the group recovers, a little heart to heart exchange between Royce and Isabelle occurs in which she divulges some previous knowledge of the creatures, referencing the original movie (and unfortunately, also being highly reminiscent of Carl Weathers in the original). Soon after the group encounters (a somewhat portly) Fishburne, a special forces survivor from a previous hunt who has been hiding in a derelict spaceship. He fills in a lot of details about the Predators, the hunt, and the possibility of escape (including revealing that the Predators keep a spaceship near their camp) before the group goes to sleep.
After awakening to smoke, the group realizes that they are locked into a room which Fishburne is filling with smoke in an attempt to suffocate them. The commotion that follows begins the ending phase for the movie, in which one after another the Predators kill each member of the group. Yet the group is also able to pick off the Predators, usually at the sacrifice of a life, in a prolonged race back to the camp (again, reminiscent of the race in the original to arrive at the extraction point as the Predator killed each member of Dutch's team one by one). Royce reasons that by releasing the captive Predator held in the camp, he will be able to convince it to assist them with capturing the spaceship, and in doing so secure a ride home. One by one his group is whittled down until only he, the girl, and the doctor remain.
In these few remaining scenes, my tolerance for the movie really started to dissolve. First, in a poor attempt to add some twist to the plot, the doctor is revealed to be a serial killer (thus finally explaining his inclusion in the group) after he plays on the emotions of the female sniper to rescue him. At the same time, Royce abandons the last two in a bid to reach the camp and spaceship ahead of the last surviving Predator hunting them. Reaching the camp, he frees the bound Predator (turns out there are two different species at war with each other and this poor bastard was on the losing end), who starts the ship for him and then arms itself to fight its own kind. However, bad Predator returns, blows up the spaceship, and proceeds to fight good Predator. As you might expect, Royce experienced a sudden (and completely out of character) change of heart and was not actually aboard the spaceship, but instead returns to rescue the other two humans. At one point, bad Predator triggers a booby trap, taking eight (EIGHT!) grenades to the stomach. Does this incinerate him? Does this shower the surrounding area in a spray of squishy Predator bits? Nope. In fact, it only throws him back about 15 feet, and he quickly stands up and shakes it off. He shakes off EIGHT FUCKING GRENADES TO THE STOMACH!
This is where Predators makes its last final mimic of the original. In the big showdown between bad Predator and Royce, a scene change occurs in which Royce goes from fully clothed with a gun to shirtless and swabbed in mud with some kind of metal axe. Where, in the original, Dutch serendipitously learned that his enemy saw him in infrared and used a full coating of mud combined with clinging behind cooler trees and rocks to avoid detection, here we have Royce standing in a fire lit clearing with a token amount of mud face to face with bad Predator. I hope when you read that last sentence, you compulsively exclaimed, "Are You Serious?".
If Wikipedia is to be believed, the creators of Predators tried to return to the roots of the franchise. But in copying much of the superficiality of the original, they seem to have ignored the underlying reasons why the first one still stands out as a great science fiction action movie. In Predator, the tension of the movie builds as the team led by Dutch began to realize their predicament. The creature, its abilities, and its weaknesses are all slowly revealed, and it's not until very late in the movie that a full image of the Predator is seen. While fantastic, the premise of the movie is plausible enough to suck you in without thinking too much about it. However, in the Predators, it does not take long at all for the group to realize their situation and to see the full ensemble of their enemies' abilities. In addition, many pieces of dialogue prevent even the most willing fan from becoming fully immersed in the movie (especially note the discussion about not being on earth, the sun not moving, etc.). And finally, some of the acting seems halfhearted at best. Laurence Fishburne, for example, turns out a weak version of his character (and I love this guy usually). Not only is his portrayal unconvincing, but for someone who's supposed to have just been scraping by under continual danger, he sports a noticeable paunch in his belly.
*End Spoiler Warning*
The best things about this movie include ... numerous action scenes featuring an assortment of weapons and a generally fast pace.
The things about this movie that detracted from it include ... the resemblance to the original plot, extremely predictable nature of the story progression, some of the acting performances, and discrepancies between what the creatures can survive.
If I were going to recommend this movie to someone, it would be ... people who enjoy action science fiction movies that are light on science and heavy on fiction, die hard fans of the Predator franchise, and probably not too many others.