July 12, 2010
by Jeremy Kirk
Nimrod Antal's Predators is easily, without question, the second best film in the science fiction franchise. That might not be saying much for a series that began with one of the most innovative action films of the 1980s and has since dumped its iconic, titular character into a fray of misguided sequels and spin-offs and blasphemous crossovers. As memorable and as exquisitely crafted as the Predator character is, the movies it has inhabited haven't been living up to expectations ever since we were introduced to the "futuristic" world of 1997 Los Angeles in Predator
Take a rag-tag group of warriors, drop them in the jungle, and have them attempt to survive the attack of an alien hunter who can disguise itself like a chameleon. This time around, though, those warriors aren't comrades in arms, but killers from varying parts of the world. Adrien Brody plays Royce, a mercenary who becomes the de facto leader of the group. In the film's opening moments, quite literally before the title card presents itself, we see him falling through the air unconscious. He comes to, and a parachute slows his fall just enough to keep him alive after hitting the jungle ground.
Royce and the rest of the group, made up of people like a Yakuza hitman, and IDF sniper, a member of a drug cartel, etc, find one another, and it becomes quite clear very quickly they are not in their element. They are on an alien world, and something has brought them to this jungle planet for the sole purpose of hunting them. The strangers in this strange land must become a team and use their respective skills if they are to survive.
This is where Predators finds its first set-back. Where the connection among the members of the team in John McTiernan's 1987 original was undeniable, here there isn't even an attempt at forming such a bond. Much of the cast is pure fodder for the picking-off-one-by-one nature of the film. It's a minor problem in the first half of the film when all they are doing is trekking through the jungle and attempting to sort out who or what is hunting them.
Produced by Robert Rodriguez and directed by Nimrod Antal, the film's first half is stylish and polished trading in the McTiernan grain and grit for slick CG skylines and the best landscapes Hawaii has to offer. It doesn't really matter that we don't know much about any of these characters, since the action hits quickly and hard and offers some of the best B-movie thrills seen in a while. The periodic references from the '87 original thrown in and the "tough" dialog and quips straight out of the '80s catalog help hold your interest, as well. It isn't until 20 minutes or so in that we even get our first glimpse at one of the Predators or before there is any indication (other than the opening title) this is even a Predator movie. This is to the film's advantage, Antal and Rodriguez don't hide the alien from us, but it's not splashed across the screen from the very opening, either.
It doesn't seem to hit us how little there is to care about anyone until the clunky second half when Laurence Fishburne pops up as Mr. Exposition. His character is the biggest problem found in Predators, not so much that he exists. He plays a soldier who has previously been brought as part of the hunt. He has learned to survive and, for some reason, feels it his duty to help these new arrivals. It is at this point, where Fishburne's character takes the group back to his save haven for some rest and explanation, that the film falls off the proverbial cliff. His exposition, while somewhat necessary for the exciting third act and gives some interesting back story to the Predator's world, is handled so lazily and disjointedly it sucks the excitement the first half built up right out of the picture.
We are offered some character development in this section of the film, though. It's too little too late for most of them, but Brody's Royce and Alice Braga as the IDF sniper are allowed to evolve. They aren't exactly layered, but when compared to the paper thin characters the other actors (Topher Grace, Walton Goggins, Danny Trejo, et al. included) play, a single note is better than hardly any at all.
Antal's direction, particularly of the action, is hit-or-miss. Some of the scenes are fast-paced, evenly edited and offer enough chic to keep you honed in. Other scenes, one very cool scene in particular where the Yakuza assassin breaks out his katana blade for some hand-to-hand, alien swordplay, are shoddily framed and paced with very little enthusiasm to be found. Much of the film's third act is exhilarating and almost wins back any action lover's attention that was lost in the catacombs of Fishburne's near narration. It goes out on a high note (quite literally when considering the film's closing credit song, which will make any fan of McTiernan's original grin from ear to ear), and you almost forget the slogging you had to go through the 30 minutes prior. Almost.
Predators is an up-down-up adventure that takes unfamiliar approaches to some quite familiar territory. A long way from the film that began it all, it never transcends the B-level sci-fi action it is filled with. It even includes the obligatory open end for the possibility of sequelitis setting in. Who survives the Predators of the story is not something that is to be revealed here, but know that if the audience and their engrossment is to survive Predators the film, there is some serious jungle that has to be waded through.