Directed by: Nimrod Antal || Produced by: Robert Rodriguez, John Davis, Elizabeth Avellan ||
Screenplay by: Alex Litvak, Michael Finch || Starring: Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins, Danny Trejo, Oleg Taktarov, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Laurence Fishburne
Music by: John Debney || Cinematography: Gyula Pados || Editing by: Dan Zimmerman || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 107 minutes
I am glad that Predators, Robert Rodriguez’s latest fanboy-project, is not a total failure and yet another mark of shame on a once great franchise. However, that in no way warrants praise of Rodriguez’s and director Nimrod Antal’s work, because frankly, there’s nothing much else for which to congratulate the film. If all you can brag about your latest project is that “it was not a complete disaster,” there is still no reason why any of us should care about it. The fact that everybody seems to be using Paul W.S. Anderson’s Alien vs Predator (2004) and the Strause Bros.’ Alien vs Predator: Requiem (2007) as benchmarks is incredibly sad. Given the influential heights that the franchise is capable of, we should have higher standards for Predators than the AvP flicks. The franchise deserves better modern standards.
As for the film itself, what does Predators bring to the table, other than an avoidance of complete silver screen embarrassment? Like I said, not much. Allow me to explain…
The film provides minor expansions to the source material, what with competing Predator tribes, a somewhat interesting yet altogether forgettable Predator vs. Predator battle near the climax, a couple new Predator weapons and tools, and a memorable sequence with “Predator hunting dogs.” Other than those minor additions, Rodriguez’s project offers little franchise innovation or filmmaking prowess. This new movie feels like a collection of the franchise’s greatest hits in a remixed package.
As a matter of fact, Predators comes across as an awkward and unsuccessful imitation of McTiernan’s original Predator (1987). Rodriguez seems to have plagiarized as many things from the original classic as he could, failing to remix or pay homage in respectful ways. Once again, we have a bunch of commandos armed to the teeth (plus… Topher Grace) in a jungle, an alien hunter (ok, hunters) starts to hunt them, picking them off one at a time until our heroes figure out how to outsmart them. Sound familiar? Hell, even the score is almost beat-for-beat the exact same as Alan Silvestri’s original music for 1987’s Predator.
Why should we ever bother with a film like Rodriguez’s Predators when we could spend our 107 minutes with a similar yet much better film like McTiernan’s Predator? Predators‘ biggest flaw is that it is so shamefully lazy in its lack of originality, its lack of “vision,” its apparent fear to expand beyond the existing source material, and its general parasitism, for lack of a better word, of the original’s style. Hey Rodriguez, come up with something new! A couple new Predator weapons, a quick scene with hunting dogs, and an extraterrestrial game-preserve setting that functions the same as an earth-jungle don’t matter much at all.
Much of what made 1986’s Aliens such an epic, memorable, and successful sequel was how it retained the identity and heart of the original slasher in space, yet it was brave and skilled enough to strike out on its own. Aliens didn’t try to mimic the style and tone of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, because James Cameron knew that he would never be able to top a horror flick like that. Instead, Cameron decided to do something different with his 1986-sequel, which would go on to become one of the greatest movie sequels of all time. In taking risks, and avoiding the oh so tempting route of copycatting the original, the filmmakers became every bit as integral and influential parts of the xenomorph cannon.
Predators does almost none of these things. It is more or less devoid of new ideas or creative vision, like so many lackluster franchise expansions before it. Rodriguez seems content to recycle plot elements from previous films, while doing almost none of them justice. I know that we expect a film that is part of an established franchise to retain much of the original thematic DNA and core concepts that the previous films introduced, but quite honestly, if a sequel brings nothing innovative to the franchise cannon, then what is the point of making a sequel in the first place — other than to simply cash in on corporate movie studio greed? I’m aware of that last part, but I was hoping this newest Predator sequel would do more than sate the appetite for corporate profits… and Robert Rodriguez’s ego. It’s time for the Predator franchise (as well as the Alien franchise) to stop resting on its laurels.
That’s all Predators does — rest on the series’ established fame and franchise iconography. As far as the film’s basic elements go, they’re sub par to mediocre all around. The special FX and predator designs are well done, but other than that, the film is lackluster and emotionally hollow. The entire cast, from Topher Grace’s distractingly out of place pseudo-Eric Forman to Alice Braga’s forgettable sniper to Rodriguez’s obligatory posse-representative, Danny Trejo, to Adrien “Big-Nose” Brody’s dull and uninspired lead, to even Lawrence Fishburne’s overweight guest appearance, are all bland. Everyone’s a cardboard cutout. While the original Predator placed us alongside a similar group of heavily armed soldiers in a hostile jungle, those characters were interesting and had memorable personalities. Predators is both devoid of personality and absolutely humorless.
There is no comparison between these two casts. Even if the characters of Predators (2010) had an acceptable level of depth to them, to the point where we might care about what happens to them at the hands of their alien stalkers, I don’t see how this new cast could ever live up to the original’s commando all-star team. Some of the new guys, like Brody, Fishburne, and Grace, have plenty of acting ability and can put forth good performances if cast in the right roles, but none of these actors feel comfortable in this sci fi setting. They all stand out like sore thumbs.
Predators fairs a bit better in its direction and cinematography. Antal is not entirely useless. With that said, much of the locations chosen for the film’s “alien jungle” setting, and they the way the environments are shot, fail to convey that effective sense of claustrophobia and the forest creeping in on our heroes, threatening to consume them. While McTiernan’s direction glorified the creepy vibe of being stalked by an unseen force to the forefront of his adventure, Antal seems unable to emphasize that sense of dread and paranoia any time the guns aren’t blazing. Predators feels woefully unfocused, unpolished, and rushed during much of its running time. The location-shooting in Hawaii was a poor choice for a film that sought to recreate the tone of the original ’80’s classic almost beat-for-beat, as the foliage, landscapes, and canopy feel in stark contrast with the dense jungles of southern Mexico used for the first movie. There is little to no tension or drama in Predators’ setting.
That was my understanding of Rodriguez’s Predators (2010). I didn’t hate it, but I also did not like it much at all. This film hardly contributes to the Predator mythology in any way. The line between paying homage and ripping off blurs throughout this movie. I think that Robert Rodriguez, Adrien Brody, and everyone else who was a die-hard fan of the original McTiernan Predator and was involved in the making of Predators, made it painfully obvious just how little they understood what made the original work. Predators seems content to recycle ideas, images, and concepts from previous films in a weak attempt to stir up feelings of nostalgia. I expected more.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Aside from not doing much of anything above the level of mediocrity as far as writing or direction is concerned, Predators brings nothing new to the table and fails to add anything substantial to the franchise. The entire narrative and premise seem content to rehash, recycle, and regurgitate the core concepts made famous by the original. Nothing more. All the characters are cardboard cutouts.
— However… the film does make minor additions to the Predator mythology. The ideas of warring predator clans and some additional weaponry are nice touches. The predator-dog scene is well shot and intense. It’s the best scene in the movie. The film boasts considerable production values.
—> ON THE FENCE: Predators isn’t a terrible movie, despite how much I’ve ranted against it, but the problem is that it’s not memorable enough for casual fans, nor innovative enough for hardcore ones. It’s just kinda there.
? Being a die-hard, rabid fanboy is not enough to guarantee enrichment of a storied franchise. Hell, Christopher Nolan hardly new squat about Batman and that superhero’s mythology when he started working on The Dark Knight Trilogy, and look how that franchise turned out.