The Predator franchise began in 1987 as a standalone feature starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of several commandos dropped into the jungle of Central America for a bit of anti-guerilla warfare. Along the way they encounter an extra-terrestrial proficient in killing, skinning and spinal cord removal. The film was an excellent bit of horror meets thriller meets sci-fi and it has since spawned a shoddy 1990 Los Angeles-based sequel starring Danny Glover and a spin-off of sorts combining the Alien and Predator franchises in the lackluster Alien vs. Predator in 2004 and its even worse sequel in 2007 . In my eyes all three were failures and seem to suggest this is a franchise best left in the ’80s.
Nevertheless, under the tutelage of producer Robert Rodriguez (Sin City), Fox is still attempting to prove this is in fact a viable franchise and not just a one-time feature that can’t be duplicated. Experimenting with the Alien outline, adding an “s” to the title and upping the Predator quotient three-fold we have 2010’s Predators directed by Nimrod Antal (Vacancy) and written by first-timers Alex Litvak and Michael Finch. While this isn’t an awful film by any stretch it’s entirely unnecessary as a theatrical effort. Had it gone straight to DVD it would have made more sense, but it doesn’t bring nearly enough to the table to warrant today’s primetime ticket prices and even matinee prices are debatable.
The film begins as a group of humans are dropped from the sky into the jungle of an alien planet. It’s a good place to start considering anyone that knows what this film is about already realizes these are simply lambs being led to the slaughter and the expectation is only one or perhaps none of them is likely to survive. Yet, this ends up being the film’s biggest issue.
While Antal and Co. realize there are certain story details we don’t need, it seems they forgot the audience has been aware of Predator aliens for 23 years, which makes me wonder why they take so long to bring on the Predator. Outside of a fun bit with some Predator hounds in the beginning we don’t get much Predator action until the lumbering and lame finale. Keeping the reason most people are interested in this film hidden in the jungle is a pretty bad idea if you ask me.
In fact, the hunting of the human prey in Predators is quite tame. For the most part the group remains together and periodically one of them will fall behind or end up injured or dead from a booby trap. With nine humans to kill you’d think it would be a little more exciting, but in reality only two of the kills are actually entertaining in that “need for gore” kind of way. The rest are either off screen or involve giant explosions. Just wait until you see Louis Ozawa Changchien as Hanzo, a Yakuza killer, take on one of the Predators in a sword fight – it’s laughably uninteresting. Additionally, a battle between a pair of Predators is so clunky and slow it leads me to believe the reason Antal kept them hidden for so much of the film is because they could hardly move underneath their foam rubber costumes.
Adrien Brody leads the cast as Royce, a mercenary with a black heart and a passion for killing. Brody is solid and you’d hardly expect some ex-black ops mercenary to be some muscle bound thug, a la Schwarzenegger, but as with all films of this sort the actor is only as good as the material. For the most part, Predators isn’t hurt by character development or silliness as much as it suffers from a lack of intensity. Nothing seems new or interesting and the excitement meter rarely jumps. Sure, we are on an alien planet, but unless you’re working on par with Pandora we are going to need a little more than gooey flowers to stimulate the imagination.
Joining Brody are Topher Grace (“That ’70s Show”), Alice Braga (I Am Legend), Walt Goggins (“The Shield”), Danny Trejo (Machete), former UFC fighter Oleg Taktarov, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and Laurence Fishburne is along for the ride as a weathered survivor with a few loose screws. Of the bunch, Goggins plays one of the more foul-mouthed and eccentric characters, a serial killer on death row who can’t wait to get back to Earth and “rape some fine bitches.” Rightly, Nikolai (Taktarov), a Russian Special Forces soldier, tells Edwin (Grace) he should “stay away from that guy.” The audience laughs.
Antal does his best with what he’s given and what is there to take. However, I am now convinced this is a franchise that should’ve never gone farther than one film. Outside of remaking the 1987 original this is a story that just didn’t have much else to go on. In the first film the buildup worked because the audience didn’t yet know what was around the corner, but after 23 years many of us know what to expect and there doesn’t seem to be much else to offer.
Predators may work well with newcomers to the genre that aren’t sitting around waiting for the next Predator kill, but I was more interested in seeing some cool new alien technology and gut-spilling kills. I got a little of what I wanted but not nearly enough. As a result, there isn’t much bad I can say about Predators just as much as there isn’t a whole lot of good to relay either.