A film review by Craig J. Koban October 26, 2010


2010, R, 106 mins.


Royce: Adrien Brody / Edwin: Topher Grace / Cuchillo: Danny Trejo / Isabelle: Alice Braga / Stans: Walton Goggins / Nikolai: Oleg Taktarov / Noland: Laurence Fishburne

Directed by Nimrod Antal / Written by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch

The original John McTiernan directed PREDATOR from way, way back in 1987 still remains one of the most effective action-thriller pictures of that decade (so slickly made, well oiled, and enjoyable that Entertainment Weekly Magazine voted it their 22nd Greatest Action Film of All-Time).  The human trophy hunting “predator” villain of the film was a fiendishly designed and memorable creation: a 7-foot-plus tall alien creature with phosphor green blood, infrared vision, cloaking devices, an arsenal of kick-ass extraterrestrial weaponry, and a mandible adorned mug that only its own mother could love.  This was a species capable of vast and complicated interstellar space travel, but, deep down, it just really, really liked to serial hunt and kill prey. 

The ’87 original spawned one inferior sequel in 1990 and two regrettably awful crossover films where the predators faced off against their cinematic alien nemesis in 2004's ALIEN VS PREDATOR, which in turned spawned another instantly forgettable sequel.  I greatly appreciated and enjoyed McTiernan’s efforts with PREDATOR – he crafted an well executed action picture utilizing old staple elements of solid location shooting, well realized special effects, and fever pitched tension and intrigue.  It’s a small shame that a film that has become a part of the sci-fi/action genre milieu of the 80’s spawned such a lamentable turn of substandard sequels.   

Enter Robert Rodriguez, who wrote an early treatment for a sequel to PREDATOR 2 way back in the early 90’s that was never taken to successful fruition.  15 years passed and 20th Century Fox – who initially balked at the script based largely on budgetary concerns – gave Rodriguez and company the greenlight to make a worthy sequel to the first two films in the series that would all but ignore the last two crossover pictures.  The new PREDATORS (pluralized…meaning it’s a sequel and that – gosh – there’s more than one of the beasties in the film) shows a fetishistic appreciation for the 1987 original, right down to the essence of the storyline: human beings trapped in jungle surroundings that are being hunted and exterminated one-by-one by an unknown alien entity.   To call PREDATORS "original" inspires incredulous giggles, but it takes the formula from the first film and delivers a solidly entertaining and well made sequel that rejuvenates the franchise and easily makes one forget about the gimmicky crossover pictures that failed to inspire the series’ rabid, fundamentalist fanboys.  PREDATORS is silly and derivative on its own, but as a worthy and proficiently crafted sequel that delivers on intended promises, the film is a  moderate success. 

The film begins in sensational fashion, which shows a series of degenerates, criminals, and mercenaries being parachuted into an unknown jungle location.  One of these people, a bad-assed, hard-edged, and dexterous killing machine/ex-special op merc named Royce (Adrien Brody, looking astonishingly and atypically buff and ripped) awakens from unconsciousness as he is being parachuted down to an unknown location.  He later meets up with all of the others that hit the ground: they are an Israeli Special Forces sniper named Isabelle (Alice Braga); a Mexican drug cartel enforcer named Cuchillo (the great Danny Trejo, looking awesomely Trejo-esque); a Spetsnaz soldier named Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov); a Revolutionary United Front Officer named  Mombasa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali); a death row inmate named Stans (Walton Goggins), a Yakuza enforcer named Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien) and…a doctor named Edwin (Topher Grace) that seems like the odd man out, seeing as he is not a crook, is not packing any firepower, and is fairly mild-mannered and meek, so you just know something is up with his character from the get go. 

Royce becomes the de facto leader of the group, barking out orders to the others as they attempt to discover where the hell on earth they are, but in one of the film’s would-be big reveals, they all discover that they are on an alien planet, with convenient amounts of breathable atmosphere and perfect, Earth-like gravity and vegetation.  The “big reveal” that they are not on their home planet is ludicrously handled: when they manage to get into a clear spot out of the jungle they see several large moons orbiting the sky, which begs the question as to how any of them did not notice them when they parachuted down through the atmosphere of the planet, not to mention that moons the size presented here would have been noticeable from just about anywhere on the planet with a semi-clear view of the sky. 

Of course, the party begins to notice that other things are not normal on this planet, especially the nagging sensation that they are being followed and perhaps have been placed there for "a reason" (gee, you think?).  This all, of course, sets up the middle act of the film to reveal the presence of not one, not two, but several predator monsters that wish to make them all a part of their permanent skull collection.  As the attacks escalate, Royce begins to feel that they are all on a large game preserve suited especially for the aliens’ twisted need to stalk and murder them, although it seems like going to Earth, kidnapping humans, and then dragging them to an alien world…just to hunt them when they could have just done the same on Earth - seems like a preposterously convoluted plan for the predators themselves.  Much like in the '87 classic, the film essentially becomes a guessing game as to which party members will be killed first and who will be left in the end to defend themselves against an insurmountable foe…oops….I mean foes.

On a character level, the people that occupy PREDATORS are not fully realized as much as they are just one-dimensional types that exist to be served up as bait for the creatures (which, to be fair, echoes the level of development of the original film’s human roles).  Their dialogue is painfully routine and mechanical, especially at one point when Isabella recounts a 1987 report of the only human survivor that fought a predator on earth in Guatemala (a direct reference to the first film).   PREDATORS has some devilish fun with making us guess which person will be decimated next - in gruesomely macabre ways -  but it certainly does not have nearly as much fun with a late-breaking plot twist involving one character that made my eyes roll nearly into the back of my skull. 

Yet, I did appreciate the willingness to cast this film with actors playing against type, like Adrien Brody for instance, who does not initially come to mind when one thinks of rugged action heroes, but the way that the Oscar winning performer completely and plausibly submerges into the physical guise of a beefed-out action star and wholeheartedly pulls if off is a revelation.  I also like Alice Braga as the sniper, whose graceful beauty is nicely contrasted by the toughness and determination her role displays.  Perhaps the largest treat – and biggest in-joke – in the film is a cameo by a wild-eyed, crazy-as-hell, and demonically anti-social ex-Soldier, played by Laurence Fishburne, who has been living on the planet for a long, long time defending himself from the monsters.  The fact that the actor plays an obvious Colonel Kurtz figure is ironically funny and inspired: he appeared in APOCALYPSE NOW and, at one time in PREDATORS, even hums the "Ride of the Valkyries".  Either way, Fishburne is an infectious hoot in the film that gives the story a much-needed jolt. 

PREDATORS does a few other things with a real gusto and intuition: the director, Nimrod Antal (yeah, that’s his real first name...suuuure) exhibits the patience of the first film by not directly showing the predators until about 45 minutes in, which is good for helping to bolster the tension and anticipation of their inevitable reveal.  Kudos also needs to be given to him for utilizing a refreshingly old school aesthetic style to the action sequences: instead of bombarding viewers with endless moments of shaky, queasy cam hysterics and multi-second edits that makes your head ache, Antal creates these scenes with a controlled and restrained efficiency and – thank 'da Lord – shows them with a clarity that most young action directors lack.  I was fully expecting PREDATORS to completely hammer viewers with a modern and manically overdone auditory/visual style, but it emerges as surprisingly clean and well defined.  It’s really welcoming to be able to watch a contemporary action film and be able to actually delineate what’s happening within the frame; other directors need to take note. 

There are other touches I liked as well, especially with the nice referencing of Alan Silvestri’s score from the '87 original that is rendered in the background of PREDATORS by John Debney.  The large scale and final showdown in the film at the climax is rousingly and viciously satisfying (BTW – how utterly satisfying is it to see a balls-to-the wall and hard-R rated PREDATORS film in a recent climate where old action favs – like the recent DIE HARD film and, yes, ALIEN VS PREDATOR – were neutered to shameless PG-13 levels of spiteful ridicule?).   

Yes, there are issues with this new re-launch of the PREDATORS franchise, but my job is to report what I saw and how well the film is in context (in its context, how good of a PREDATOR film is it?).  PREDATORS is laughably absurd at times and hardly reinvents the narrative wheel for this type of hunter vs. prey film, but it does what it’s supposed to do with a professional polish and aptitude.  It knows precisely what made the '87 film a smash hit and it modestly recaptures its dark intensity, excitement, and thrills.  It’s definitely not the equal of the McTiernan film, but compared to what followed it, this PREDATORS is in a solid class by itself for reasonably rejuvenating a series that I thought was on life support.  In the end, the film delivers on its promises and expectations of making a solid, well paced, and action packed PREDATOR flick.

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