On DVD: Predators

Like most movie franchises begun in the 20th Century — with a few notable exceptions thanks to James Cameron — the “Predator” series was never better than its 1987 original. The most recent efforts pitting the Predators against their “enemies” the Xenomorphs, the “Alien vs. Predator” films, had reduced a once imaginative and fearsome beast to a B movie creature feature. Producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimród Antal attempt to change that with “Predators” plural.

“Predators” ranks as next best to the John McTiernan original, but that’s not exactly a major accomplishment. This version restores the intensity and creative possibility to the “Predator” universe, but it doesn’t match the genre-changing impact that the 1987 film had on monsters-hunting-humans movies. The film plays it safe, going for action with that macho, carnal brutality that only true lovers of monster and alien flicks enjoy.

The film definitely proves that a reinvention of the series was warranted. The script from rookie writers Alex Litvak and Michael Finch is a home run as far as concept goes: this time the humans are on the Predators’ planet and they aren’t just any humans, but representative of the most elite killers from all over the globe. In other words, the Predators want to hunt the very best killers humankind has to offer.

Adrien Brody stars as the firm-willed but mysterious leader of the pack. He takes charge early on in the story, but also as far as acting. Lowering his voice to the “Christian Bale as Batman” frequency, he proves he has leading man ability and command. It helps to mask that Litvak and Finch write his nameless (except for the last few minutes) character with a bit of an exaggerated no-nonsense attitude, to the point where he always seems to know what’s up, have a plan, or have surmised just the right amount of information to compel the action forward.

“Predators” begins with more promise than it ends with. The drama begins with Brody falling through the sky and landing on the planet with the other “prisoner,” who certainly fail to trust each other at first and slowly begin to realize over the first half hour just what they’re up against.

Antal, who directed the unsuccessful heist flick “Armored” and the well-received horror flick “Vacancy” is much more patient and deliberate during this first act, but once the Predators make their first appearance, the lid comes off. Part of the power of the original “Predator” as with “Alien” and other successful films with “hunters” was the slow reveal, never completely showing the enemy force until the suspense has built up, if ever. True, we know what Predators look like after 20-plus years, but these enemies become less menacing when overexposed, especially given that there’s way more than one in this film.

Thematically I was almost impressed that the script was concerned with themes of survival at all costs and the idea of compassion being both a weakness and a strength of human nature. It was not just dialogue that illustrated these points, but actual events, particularly the outcome of when the group meets Laurence Fishbourne’s character, who has been on the planet surviving in solitude for quite some time.

But the anti-climactic action sequences really snuff the suspense and otherwise impressive pacing of the film. For example, there’s no reason to have a Japanese Yakuza hit-man engaging in a sword fight with a Predator than to have a human engaging in a sword fight with a Predator. The scene itself does not work nearly as well as the idea behind it.

However, “Predators” is definitely taking the franchise back in a positive direction and with a capable and likable lead in Brody. It carries more of the “Predator” tradition than the failed sequels before it, but by no means does it reach the threshold of what a “Predator” movie can be.

3/5 Stars

Directed by Nimród Antal
Written by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, Jim and John Thomas (characters)
Starring: Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Laurence Fishbourne


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