It’s apparently not that hard to fuck up a Predator movie. They’ve been doing it now for nigh on two decades. Despite having an almost unimpeachable template – 1987’s Predator, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger discovers the joys of colonialism through blackface – subsequent attempts to replicate the formula have been marred by lack of tension, off-beat plotting and, well, being the Alien vs. Predator movies. That charming cocktail of action, B-movie junk and tastefully discrete sci-fi has yet to be recreated, even in the most sterilised, controlled conditions of the summer blockbuster.
Enter schlockmeister Robert Rodriguez, delivering what might be described as a leaner, more competitive Predator film for these trying economic times. We’re back in the rainforest, and a cadre of ethnically diverse, stoically gruff soldiers are being picked off one-by-one by an unseen enemy. Eventually, a shirtless Adrien Brody (the critically-acclaimed star of Tori Amos’ A Sorta Fairytale music video from 2002) will throw down with the biggest of the bad, perhaps (spoiler alert!) by screwing with its thermal vision.
In fairness, Predators can be said to have the most in common with the film we all fondly remember. But it still falls short of fondness, for two reasons – first, the noble impulse to strip away all the unnecessaries leads to the searing of some important elements. Secondly, it also has a lot in common with some other films, not so fondly remembered, and mentioned above.
The characters of Predators are plucked from their lives and deposited (read: dropped) onto a lush alien wilderness, one strangely bereft of alien plant and animal life. They’ve never met each other, and naturally, some Cube-esque paranoid hilarity ensues. Adrien Brody just wants to go it alone! Danny Trejo won’t share his guns with Walton Goggins! Topher Grace can calculate prime numbers in his head! This game theory stuff, specifically ‘big game’ theory, is not in itself a bad idea, potentially suited to a low-budget classic like, say, Cube. But with an enemy as firmly established as the frigging Predator, that kind of tension just can’t manifest.
Add to that the fact that this film’s Predators manifestly fail to do anything memorable whatsoever. Go ahead, try and recall a high point. One sets the sniper trap from Full Metal Jacket. Another battles our resident Yakuza, who brandishes a katana, in swaying moonlit grass. Rodriguez, I know what you’re doing. Stop it. And there is a battle between two predators, which sounds cool, right? I guess if you like bar fights, then… maybe? Because that’s all that happens. Two acrobatic, kitted-up war machines go toe to toe, and proceed to bump into each other for five minutes.
This is what happens when you pluralise the antagonist – you run the risk of turning them into a faceless mob jogging down a hallway. This worked, of course, in Aliens, when thousands of insectoid killing machines swarmed down a hallway. But the ‘s’ in Predators denotes about five guys, hanging out in the woods. You couldn’t have had them swarming – though then again you might’ve said that about the Alien in 1979 – but, with a team of extraterrestrial hunters, is it too much to ask for a bit of teamwork?
And let’s not forget the premise of the aforementioned fight sequence, the tension-destroying human/predator team-up. Because, as we all know from the vaunted AvP franchise, not only can Predators understand human beings but, given the chance, they’re pretty reasonable dudes. This is not an ‘edgy’ direction for your narrative to take, it’s political correctness, and it’s not the self-consciously racist, sexist, racist B-movie that is demanded from Robert Rodriguez or the Predator franchise.
Anyway, go see this film, especially if you sat through all the others – you’ll smell the improvement from a mile off. Brody is actually pretty swell as gravelly action hero, and the film’s climactic fight (essentially the inverse of the classic Schwarzenegger showdown) holds your attention. The supporting cast work well with what they’re given.
And finally, Predators is worth watching for a hilariously unnecessary exchange between Brody and Alice Braga, in which she has the gall to suggest that, hey, maybe we could be considered the predators, you know? A mind-blowing insight you could only gleam from that cathartic moment. Or maybe by watching the original Predator.