Movie Review: Predators
Wouldn’t it be nice if Predator 2 hadn’t happened?
The law of diminishing returns hasn’t been kind to our dreadlocked friends. Predator 2 had a seriously hard time matching the first film’s visceral punch and if we’re being honest Danny Glover is a poor replacement of Arnold Schwarzenegger in anyone’s book. Then, of course, there are the Alien vs Predator films that not only failed on just about every level but also managed the impressive feat of running two franchises into the ground. Naturally, any attempt to resurrect this saga would be met with a cynical eye. As far as expectations go mine were rock bottom.
So colour me surprised that Predators is good. In fact it is almost a perfect template for a sequel. It’s flawed so it’s in no way a perfect movie, but in the traditional sense it does exactly what a sequel should do. Producer Robert Rodriguez and Director Nimrod Antal have taken what worked with Predator and added to it. It’s effectively a retread of the original but it manages to create an identity of it’s own, successfully honouring the original whilst taking the franchise forward.
The result is a throwback so pleasing I couldn’t stop grinning the entire time.
From the first moments the film grabs you by the face. The opening shot sees Adrian Brody waking up in free fall thousands of feet in the air. In a panic he punches wildly at the parachute he is wearing which opens automatically moments before impact. When he comes to he soon finds others in the same situation. It soon becomes apparent this group of strangers are not alone in the jungle and that something maybe hunting them (spoiler: It’s the Predators).
I can’t figure out what Adrian Brody is doing in this film but it’s some kind of genius. He is either playing it completely straight or he is sending up an entire legion of action movie stars. Either way he completely sells the tight lipped badass mercenary in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible. “Where are you going?” someone asks him. “To see who threw me out of a f**king airplane!” he barks. Roman Polanski never asked him to deliver lines like that and Brody relishes every moment. In fact I think Brody’s performance is what sold me on the film.
The rest of the cast fair well enough. Danny Trejo makes his obligatory Rodriguz cameo, Oleg Taktarov is on screen seemingly just to carry a Gatling gun (see: nods to the original), Topher Grace is Topher Grace and the admittedly lovely Alice Braga is on hand as hard as nails femme fatale. Bringing the crazy is Walter Goggins and Lawrence Fishburne both trying to eat as much scenery as possible. The truth is they are a rather weak trade in for the original cast but in all honesty there will never be a cast as impossibly macho as the first Predator film. This isn’t a cast of fully realised characters but they are interesting and crucially they are never treated as fodder. This is the most important distinction between this film and the turgid sequels, while these characters aren’t particularly deep they are likeable in the (in some cases very) short term. It’s actually a good 45 minutes before the Predators appear but you don’t notice it. You’re happy enough to watch these misfits interact with each other and while the audience is always five steps ahead of them it’s fun watching them piece together the situation.
That’s another mark in this film’s favour. Antal shows a steady hand. I think a lesser team would have made this a balls to wall action movie throwing the monsters in in the first five minutes but Antal is confident enough to be more subtle and build up tension gradually. Granted this may be due in part to the film’s modest budget, but there is definitely a sense that from inception to execution this was always a horror film. Predators, against all odds, has made the franchise and the Predators scary again.
But it does more than that, it actually reminded me of why I love the first film. This is a B – Movie make no mistake, but so was Predator. A glorious semi-ridiculous monster movie. This doesn’t come near the original but it is the sequel that it deserves.
Predators is a defibrillator to the chest of the Predator franchise. The sequel has already been greenlit and I’m onboard to see where it’s headed.