Film Review – Predators
Here’s a quick synopsis of Predators: jungle, soldiers, bullets, gore, Predators, explosions, more Predators, more bullets, people die, the End. Not necessarily in that order but you get the idea. The plot really isn’t important, since that’s not what fans of the original are here for. The only thing a fan of this series wants is to see a suspenseful story told well. With Predators in it. That’s it. Is this the quintessential Predator film? Not really. Is it perfect? Definitely not. But to be fair, there hasn’t been a perfect Predator film. Predator 2 is generally hated by fans of the series. I personally think that film deserves more credit than what it’s given but I’m not going to get into that argument here. Suffice it to say, even if you like that film, it’s flaws are considerable. The original film is a bit trickier though. I LOVE Predator and have loved it since the first time I saw it at the tender age of 9. Even watching it now, I still think it holds up as a fun, sci-fi/ action/ horror film.
But is it perfect? No way!
Let’s take off the fanboy glasses for a moment and really take a hard look at the original. You could make a strong argument that Predator is really just your typical Schwarzenegger ’80’s action vehicle with a cooler than usual concept. Then they took this concept and elevated it tenfold with mind-blowing practical effects that still amaze to this day. If the Predator itself hadn’t been brought to life in such a realistic, detailed way would the film have taken off in the hearts and minds of movie geeks the way that it did? If the suit looked like a holdover from the original Star Trek television series would we be seeing this sequel in theaters this weekend? We’ll never know for sure but it might have been dead in the water if the Predator didn’t look so good in his debut performance. The Predator is the true star of Predator. Sorry Arnie. There’s a lot of other things done right in the original too. Sure, there’s some corny scenes and dialogue topped with a generous helping of ’80’s cheese but it’s part of the film’s charm. The direction, by John McTiernan, is great and the suspense is built masterfully as the mystery unfolds with patience. But it’s not perfect, not in the way that I would argue that Alien is a perfect film. Not even in the way that Aliens, though lesser than the original, still manages to be perfect. Predator just never had the same pedigree as that film series. But it’s concept and antagonist were fantastic and that was enough. So when the filmmakers responsible for Predators decided to make this sequel they faced an interesting challenge. All they had to do was live up to a film series that has generally been deeply flawed. Well, they did live up to it. They delivered a film far better than Predator 2, even if it never really compares with the original. And I couldn’t be happier about that. I couldn’t expect this film to be as good as the original. As it is, it’s a better film than I what I had expected it to be. But it does come riddled with imperfections, just like the others in the series (for the record, I am including the terrible AvP films as part of the “series”).
The team that producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal have assembled are very interesting and the actors who play them all embody their roles with aplomb. I found myself loving the imagery of these completely disparate characters coming together in this terrifying situation. Unfortunately, you never learn much about these characters apart from their designations back on earth so the actors never get to express much beyond these surface qualities. I was able to let that slide but one thing I find very unfortunate is that this team never really feels like the deadliest fighters that Earth has to offer, with the exception of Adrien Brody. The soldiers from Predator have a lot more weight in terms of training and gravitas. Granted, in Predators they’re not all soldiers but still, the Earth’s deadliest? The film never really sells it completely. Another misstep is that Predators feels, at times, like fan-fiction. Rodriguez and Antal are obviously so enamored of the original that they felt the need to slip in visual and thematic references whenever possible. This fanboy mentality surfaces in other ways too, such as a scene that apparently originated with a conversation about how cool it would be to have a samurai fight a Predator. Yeah, it’s kind of cool but it also feels forced and a little out of place in the world they’ve created. There are other little things here and there that stand out. I didn’t love the Predator dog sequence all that much. The idea was sound but the look of the creatures felt derivative and non-functional and the scene doesn’t pay off satisfactorily. The action scenes aren’t as memorable as the original’s, nothing as striking as (spoiler?) the Carl Weather’s arm amputation scene or the head explosion. And, most importantly, I felt this film had a colorful, comic-book look and feel that made it fun but never put it on the same level as Predator which felt, despite it’s action/ sci-fi elements, as something rooted in reality.
But if you’re a fan of the original, don’t let any of these nitpicks deter you. Ultimately, this is the sequel that Predator fans have been waiting for and finally, after 23 years, we have it. Adrien Brody is a great and believable action hero and he does a lot with his character. Lawrence Fishburne does his best Col. Kurtz impression in his cameo as a survivor on the planet and his scenes are a lot of fun. The script does a good job of exploiting some very interesting ideas in what amounts to a threadbare story and it’s always entertaining. But most important are the Predators themselves. There’s plenty of them here. I love the look of the different Predators and we end up learning some new things about their culture and social interactions. Not much, but enough to get us thinking while we wait for the sequel. And I hope there is a sequel. This may not be the definitive Predator film but maybe someday we’ll get it. It’s certainly a step in the right direction.