Predators

PredatorsSynopsis: Robert Rodriguez presents Predators, a bold new chapter in the Predator universe. Adrien Brody stars as Royce, a mercenary who reluctantly leads a group of elite warriors in a mysterious mission on an alien planet. Except for a disgraced physician, they are all cold-blooded killers – mercenaries, mobsters, convicts and death squad members – human “predators.” But when they begin to be systematically hunted and eliminated by a new predator breed, it becomes clear that suddenly, they are the prey!

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Predators 7.25

eyelights: the set-up. the setting. Lawrence Fishburne’s performance.
eyesores: the second half. the CGI creatures. Lawrence Fishburne’s girth.

“There is no hunting like the hunting of a man. And those who’ve hunted armed men long enough, and like it, never really care for anything else thereafter.” – Ernest Hemingway

2010’s ‘Predators’ is the first sequel to the 1987 smash hit ‘Predator‘ in twenty years (not accounting for the ‘Alien vs. Predator’ spin-off films). Originally conceived of in 1994 by Robert Rodriguez, it took many years before 20th Century Fox decided to take a stab at it – no doubt due to the dismal failure of ‘Predator 2‘. It largely inspires itself from the original film, ignoring all films that followed it.

It is, for the most part, a successful sci-fi action film.

While ‘Predators’ is frequently referred to as a reboot, this is not in any way the case. In fact, the picture makes a direct reference to the events that took place in the Arnold Schwarzenegger original at one point, with one of the characters providing the others with some insight into their plight by referring to Dutch’s debriefing at the time. This one is actually a natural extension of what took place in “Predator’.

The picture begins abruptly, with a character free-falling from the sky, managing to open his parachute at the last minute and crashing safely in a jungle terrain. He soon finds himself joined by others, strangers to him. Most of them have a military background, but some are criminals. All of them are suffering from memory lapses and are unsure how they got there; the last thing they can recall is a blinding light.

Together, they wander about the jungle, avoiding a few lethal traps – some man-made, others indigenous to this treacherous locale. They soon begin to realize that they have been rounded up as prey in a large game reserve. However, none of them know why they were selected and who is behind this – let alone where they are, as the environment they’re in has properties that none of them have ever encountered before.

Not only must they use all their skills just to survive, they’re going into this blind.

Frankly, I really enjoyed this new iteration of the ‘Predator’ franchise. In some ways, it made me think of ‘Cube‘, which had a similar aura of danger and mystery about it. The key difference here is that we -the audience- know who is behind all of this – only the characters don’t. But there are enough twists to the story that we also have much to discover as the picture barrels forward from one victim to the next.

Whereas ‘Predator’ had a small group of burly mercenaries who were trained to work as a team, ‘Predators’ throws together a handful of disparate people from various regions of the globe together, thereby changing the dynamic completely: the tension isn’t just coming from the outside, it also comes from within, as they shift positions towards mutual as well as respective goals. This makes the situation even more volatile.

The problem is that few of the characters in ‘Predators’ feel especially dangerous. Some appear to be psychotic, and thus are intended to appear dangerous, but few immediately impress with their physical skills or attributes – even as they are dressed to kill. One feels that they have the will, but perhaps not the means, to follow through. This leaves us with very little to root for, as we are pretty sure they won’t survive.

The cast isn’t especially magnetic, either. While they’re all very good, certainly more so than the non-actors in the original, we aren’t drawn to any of them – least of which is our lead, played by Adrian Brody, who plays his part perfectly, growling like Clint Eastwood did in his prime. So not only are we unlikely to believe them capable of pulling through this, we don’t much care if they do or not; we aren’t attached to them.

Still, the action is plentiful and perfectly-executed. The alien hunters are fantastic to look at, especially since they have different styles, each très cool. And the filmmakers knew how to hold the reveals until the appropriate time – for instance it take a good 23 minutes before we see the first thermal vision POV shot, and it takes 38 minutes before we actually see an alien hunter. This is not ‘Predator 2’.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

There were a number of aspects that I thought were pretty clever, too:
  • I like the title because it refers to two things: the notion that there may be more than one aline hunter, and that our protagonists are human predators in each their own way. Both turn out to be true, in effect pitting predators vs. predators.
  • I love the set-up, which suggests that alien abductions are made by these particular alien hunters, who bring their victims to remote game reserves that were likely designed especially for their hunt – and on an alien world, no less.
  • I love that the characters all suffer from memory lapses, leaving us with little information about them. Not only does this give the picture an excuse for character development, but it’s uncontrived – we aren’t force-fed their back history.
  • I also liked that they were specialists in their own fields, which allowed them to explore this new landscape and reveal its secrets to each other – and, by extension, to us. It was by far the best way for us to discover the setting.
  • I liked that there were a few red herrings along the way, the first of which being a trap that turned out to be human, not alien-made. We soon realized that the filmmakers weren’t going to show their cards all at once. We were left hanging.
  • I liked that the group was slowly being thinned and weakened as they learned more about their opponents. Either someone would be lost in the process or they would lose more of their weapons or capabilities. They were stronger with knowledge, weaker with weapons.
  • While some of the action was par for the course, I enjoyed a few moments. The alien hunter and Yakuza duel was a terrific scene, very much reminiscent of samurai films of yore. Instead of an empty knucklefest, we got a battle of honour. Nice.
  • I also love the casting of Lawrence Fishburne as a survivor who managed to escape the alien hunters years ago and has been scraping by ever since. He was great to watch because his performance reminded me of Jack Nicholson in his most subdued moment.

However, he simply didn’t look the part of a weathered survivor who had been struggling for so many years: Fishburne is rather overweight, and someone trapped on an alien planet, under constant threat, would likely have very little to eat. He’d be fitter.

The picture actually devolved the moment that he brought the crew back to his hide-out because it didn’t make sense that he would jeopardize his space with strangers like that. He would surely take them elsewhere and wait until he trusted them first.

What made things worse was that there was suddenly a fire in his hideout and everyone panicked. Unfortunately, it wasn’t clear at all where the fire started, how much of a threat it was, and what the result would be; it was all such a jumble that we couldn’t tell.

But it’s sort of hinted that Fishburne’s character started it.

Unfortunately, this makes no sense whatsoever. Why would he do this in his own hideout? Especially since the noise they made trying to get out would draw attention from outside, jeopardizing his position even more. He may be mad, but he isn’t stupid.

There were a few other issues as the picture wore on:

  • I liked the duel between two different breeds of alien hunters (who, it is assumed, have a blood feud going). Unfortunately, the concept is better than the execution, which lacked the spark to make it as amazing as it should very well have been.
  • The final stand between Adrian Brody’s character and the alien hunter was pretty cool because he covered himself in mud (as Dutch had done) and set everything alight to blind the hunter. Except that the mud wouldn’t have protected him, because it would have dried.
  • Further to that, the alien hunters are known to use more than just thermal vision, so he could have adapted. And even if we ignored the other viewing modes (as they’re from the sequels, which Rodriguez ignored), he could have taken his mask off.
  • The worst of it comes with the ridiculous notion that Brody’s character, being a pilot, would steal the alien hunters’ ship and take it home. It’s a moronic concept at best. But it’s even more moronic when we discover that he “missed his ride”.

Then who was flying the darned thing?

I guess someone had to come to the girl’s rescue (!), which was another contrivance I could have done without. Once she was paralyzed, she should have just died and that was that. But not only was she rescued, she shook off the paralysis to return the favour.

Le sigh…

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

Sadly, ‘Predators’ squanders all good will at the midway point and never fully recovers, ultimately shooting itself in the foot. And that’s a darned shame, because the set-up was good enough that it was on par with the original. Still, it’s a far superior picture than its predecessor and either of the ‘Alien vs. Predator’ films. It may not be a masterpiece, but it’s a decent action film and a worthy enough successor.

Date of viewing: December 26, 2014

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