I was very excited to see this film. Aliens and Predator were my bread and butter as a kid, and Predator, in my opinion, still stands strong to this day, outdoing most current action films. Robert Rodriguez returning the Predator franchise to its former glory was not something I was about to miss! Sadly, while Predators makes a fine chapter in the Predator universe, it squanders the opportunity to upstage the original the way some feel Aliens did to Alien.
The setting for this movie is brilliant, and it’s a shame that it is not used to its full potential. Royce (Adrian Brody), a deadly mercenary, finds himself stranded on an alien planet with other expert killers gathered from all over the earth. Apparently, this tribe of predators has prepared this planet as a game preserve with prey from all over the galaxy, and now it’s trophy hunting time! The scenario is ripe with potential! Instead, the film treads too closely to the original, never seizing the strength of its new and unique plot.
While we do see a few glimpses of other alien life forms besides the predators, it’s never as thrilling as it could be, and we’re not introduced to any truly memorable alien life forms. The plot practically begs for some sort of Alien cameo in the form of one of the prey selections, but since the brutal rapes that were AVP and AVP:R, it seems like everyone is afraid to mix the two series again. We also get a few “alien” elements to the planet, but in the post-Avatar world, it was almost hard at times to not realize how much certain shots looked like the California wilderness. Predators had a fairly small budget, and I’m not implying that they needed to spend Cameron dough to make this alien world believable, but it was noticeable to me how earth-like it seemed.
One good thing about Predators is the characters. While not every single one is written well, most of them give you a reason to root for them to live. Predator’s success was highly dependent on how attached you became to Schwarzenegger and his team, and while the rag tag bunch in Predators never reaches that level, a number of them get close.
Adrian Brody carries the weight of the film as mercenary Royce and does an admirable job. Brody is believable as a former military bad ass and ends up having enough charisma to carry the lead.
Laurence Fishburne has a great entrance as Noland, the Navy Seal who has survived for years on the alien planet. Having acquired a number of predator tools, including a cloaking device, and having slightly lost his sanity allowed for Fishburne to be an intriguing character. For some reason he’s killed off quickly by a predator after betraying the group, and his presence in the film basically amounts to the need for someone to explain the difference between the predators and the completely unnecessary super-predators. More on that soon. I’m not sure why director Nimrod Antal chose to go this direction with the Noland character, but it feels extremely anti-climactic. There are rumors that the original script Rodriguez wrote included a cameo for Schwarzenegger. I imagine this had to be the origin of the Noland character, and it’s thrilling to think of what could have been.
Other standouts in the cast include Walton Goggins as a despicable and comedic death row con and Louis Ozawa Changchien as the silent Yakuza warrior. Watching Changchien face off with a samurai sword against a lone predator is the highlight of the entire film. While the character’s name is never revealed during the film, the fact that he is credited as Hanzo is a nice nod for Tarantino fans.
Alice Braga also does a competent job as the honorable white knight Isabelle, but the script treats her like the typical action hero female. There are plenty of opportunities for her to assert herself with the same Ripley/Sarah Conner-type strength, but, instead, the filmmakers choose to have the hero, Royce, repeatedly save her as the damsel in distress.
Edwin, the medical doctor, is also a disappointment. Topher Grace does a fine job with the role, but his appearance in the group of killers is never as mysterious as he claims and the writing practical scream “serial killer.” Hence, it’s no surprise when Edwin reveals this randomly while he and Isabelle are hiding from the last predator in the finale of the film. The idea of a serial killer being hunted by a predator is an awesome concept, but, again, the opportunity seems squandered.
The new predators themselves seemed somewhat unnecessary. The trio of predators in this film are referred to by the film crew as “super-predators.” Super-predators are described as the “wolves” in comparison to the “dogs” who were the predator species that Arnold faced in the original. The new breed is bigger, taller, stronger, and slightly uglier. Apparently, there’s an unexplained blood feud going on between the two types, and any good Predator fan assumes that it has to do with the dishonorable hunting style of the super-predators. Also, the original predators might not like it too much that the super-predators hunt their asses down on occasion; I imagine it’s a little from column A and a little from column B. Unfortunately, there’s no real reason for the super-predators to be “super.” We don’t really see them do much differently than the original predators, except to beat up one of the predators from the smaller breed. Dark Horse Comics has explored the idea of a rouge predator a number of times, and their current Aliens vs. Predator: Three World War comic series actually focuses on a tribe of predators who are bent on conquering and enslaving worlds. They do it with trained xenomorphs. The point being that it’s scary and daunting enough to think of predators lacking their code of honor or killing their own kind. We don’t need them pumped up on steroids, too. Making them bigger and stronger just seems like a lazy way to make them appear bad ass.
There is some predator vs. predator action in the film, but it never amounts to what it should be. Instead of a breathtaking battle between two skilled warriors, the fight is more clunky and clumsy with a lot of rolling on the ground. It reminded me of the fight between the alien and predator in Paul W. S. Anderson’s AvP, where it was awesome to finally see on screen but felt clumsy and underwhelming.
There are a number of Predator nods and even a dialogue reference to the events in the original, but the film decides to ignore Predator 2 along with the irredeemable AvP films. I personally don’t understand all of the Predator 2 hate. Like Predators, it didn’t manage to challenge Predator the way that it could have, but it is still a decent predator tale and expands the mythology in a reasonable way. In the end, Predators and Predator 2 rank pretty close in terms of the quality of the films.
I’m sure that many will enjoy Predators, not being the stickler that I am when it comes to the franchise. But, just for a moment, imagine the Predators movie that could have been. One where our leads, Isabelle and Royce are combined into a cold, hard, and intelligent female killer who is tough enough to lead the boys in battle against a rogue tribe of predators. Want to keep Edwin’s serial killer status a secret? Make the gang think he’s been dropped as their medic. Imagine the tension that a group of dishonorable predators could provide if instead of being “super,” they were modeled after cannibalistic tribes who do even more horrible things to their prey than the original, honorable predators. Imagine if Schwarzenegger’s Dutch replaced Nolan as the slightly insane survivor with predator tech. He could still bite it eventually, but that’s when our female lead nabs the predator cloaking suit and a few predator wrist blades to help in her one-woman war against these ugly mother@#$%ers! The predator vs. predator showdown is also more loaded with the same one-on-one battle, but this time with the new breed of predator pulling a dirty trick on his honorable opponent and delivering a cheap and deadly blow. Or even better, imagine if the honorable predators show up just in time to save our heroine from a horrible death at the rogue predator’s hands. After a small war between multiple predators and our female lead joining the fray, the honorable tribe achieves victory and offers our lead a trip home. The last perfect touch would happen if Edwin has managed to survive until this point. Having been revealed as a serial killer, I’m sure he would have caused some trouble for the rest of the cast, but how chilling would it be if the honorable predators realized the leader of the dishonorable predator tribe was still barely alive and decided to leave it at the mercy of the human serial killer. As the predators and our female Royce leave the planet, Edwin begins his work on the immobile predator, and the last thing we hear are the creature’s tortured screams. It won’t be dying quickly…
As always, the finest sequels continue to be in the pages of the old Dark Horse comic books.