'Predators' Review


It's been a long 23 years for the hardcore Predator fans, and yet they still stay so loyal...

It was 1987 when John McTiernan's Predator wormed its way into the hearts of sci-fi, horror, and action fans -- and the film has proven to be one of the most popular survivors of the late-'80s action craze. Men, women, old, young, Schwarzenegger addicts and non-fans alike ... pretty much everyone who's seen Predator seems to love the flick. Attribute that to Ahnold's presence, to the crisp direction of McTiernan, to the deceptively clever concept and screenplay from fraternal screenwriters Jim and John Thomas, or just to that intangible "hook" that beloved genre flicks possess -- but the original Predator is as popular today as it ever was.

Since 1987, however, the titular beastie from Predator has been paraded through a series of comic books, video games, and sequels like Predator 2 (1990), Alien vs. Predator (2004), and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007) -- each movie more flat and obvious than the last. Even loyal and charitable Predatorites have to admit that their favorite interstellar ass-kicker deserves a better cinematic fate than just slugging it out with aliens from a totally unrelated franchise. Fortunately for all involved, it turns out that genre veteran Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn, Planet Terror) is not only a huge Predator fan, but one that can actually get a meeting with the franchise overseers at 20th Century Fox. If only other directors could approach a franchise because they love it, and not just because it represents a solid payday, we'd have a lot more fun genre movies to sift through.

So after two goofy attempts to wedge Predator into an Alien movie (or vice versa), along comes Rodriguez, who promptly hires up & comer Nimrod Antal (Kontroll, Vacancy) to give our beloved Predator his first legitimate sequel in over twenty years. "Back to the basics" was probably one of the mottoes of the key creative team (which also includes screenwriters Michael Finch and Alex Litvak), which helps to explain why, against all odds, Predators turns out to be a very entertaining "old-school" action flick that doesn't skimp on the sci-fi, the horror, or the colorful characters we hope to expect from a simple action flick like Predators. It's essentially a very bad-ass "point A to point B to point C" adventure story that focuses on colorful character traits as often as it does crazy alien-induced super-carnage. It's amazing how just a little extra effort can make an action film's "talky parts" almost as much fun as the mayhem.

The nifty prologue tells you all you need to know about Predators: just before the title card we're treated to a rather insane sequence in which an unknown man (Adrien Brody) is plummeting to Earth -- with no idea how he become airborne in the first place. He crash-lands (hard) in a mysterious jungle, and it's only a few minutes before a few more "guests" come dropping in. Most of them are alive; all of them are heavily-armed and sincerely pissed off. Fans of the franchise will guess the location right away, but the movie has a pretty good time stringing us along for a few moments before confessing {whoops} we're actually on a distant planet, and all of these "guests" are actually being hunted for sport. By, you guessed it, three very dangerous Predators.

All of the trademark touches that the fans love are present and accounted for and, in some cases, expanded upon: the invisible camouflage, the heat vision trick, the horribly effective weaponry, the removal of the spinal cord from a recently dispatched "trophy," etc. -- so "the basics" are covered rather well. On top of that, the producers decided upon a decidedly minimalistic approach to their overdue sequel. In other words, there's no speech-making, no ridiculously cliched plot contrivances, no extraneous subplots. Hell, even the slower moments are kept fun because of the colorful cast that Rodriguez has pulled together. In addition to Brody's surprisingly intense lead performance, highlights include a heavily-armed Danny Trejo, an enjoyably sleazy Walton Goggins, an unexpectedly charming Topher Grace, and the gorgeous gunsmith played by Alice Braga.

In keeping with the "no-frills, old-school" vibe, Predators delivers practical effects all over the place. Aside from some necessary splashes of CGI here and there, the effects come from the Greg Nicotero / Howard Berger team -- and they're pretty much awesome across the board. Of course we get some gross new Predators to feast our eyes upon, but the "classic" character is also on board -- and all four of the Predators (in addition to their dog-like mega-beasts and a few other nasty newcomers) look like living, breathing creatures. CGI will never trump "a guy in a suit," provided the suits (and the guys) are as cool as the ones found in Predators. (Also, John Debney's score is a real treat, especially for veterans of the '80s Action Flick War, like me.)

Better still, director Antal brings a healthy dose of camera-angle creativity to a potentially generic action story, and he keeps the fantastic setting / outlandish creatures rooted firmly in reality. Well, a movie reality we can readily accept, anyway. Compare that to the CG-laden boredom of the over-slick and underwhelming AVP movies, and all of a sudden Predators feels like a welcome relief to action fans. Or, at the very least, a worthy follow-up to a 1987 genre flick that so many of us still adore. Predators is simple yet kinda smart, obvious but periodically subversive, and overall quite the tasty treat for the old-school action fans who really miss the freaky ol' Predator bastards.