Editor’s Note: spoiler warning
Next to James Cameron’s ALIENS, John McTiernan‘s 1987 classic action-horror combo PREDATOR is one of my all-time favorite films. Over the past few years my obsession has grown from watching it annually to monthly, with the new Blu-ray probably forcing it to almost weekly. It has a flawless blend of action, humor and horror that has yet to be rivaled. When Robert Rodriguez brought his Troublemaker Studios on to produce PREDATORS for Twentieth Century Fox, he had one clear statement: PREDATORS would be to PREDATOR as James Cameron’s ALIENS was to ALIEN. I’ll give him this much, it’s close.
PREDATORS is sequel, straight up, and takes place even after PREDATOR 2. Director Nimrod Antal opens the film with a quick punch in the nose; the audience’s first shot is of Royce (Adrien Brody) unconscious and dropping like a rock out of the sky. He wakes and fights to get his parachute open (another tense moment) before bracing himself for a rough landing. On the ground, a “new” motley crew is quickly formed as everyone sort of stumbles into each other.
Royce is Special Ops, Isabelle (Alice Braga) the same(?), Stans (Walton Goggins) is a con who was two days from being executed, Hanzo (Louiz Ozawa ) is a Yakuza clan member who “talked too much”, Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), and Mombasa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) all serve their own countries. Topher Grace plays a wussy doctor named Edwin.
Rodriguez explained in early interviews that he wanted the movie to feel like any of these stars could be the lead, something that reflects the ‘87 PREDATOR. The only problem is they’re all technically criminals, which make it hard to love them as much as we did heroes Dutch, Dillon, Mac, Blain and the badass Billy.
Putting that aside, Antal crafts a collection of colorful individuals who are all very well defined, something that’s extremely important considering how much exposition poisons the first hour. The early course of the film, though trickled with action scenes (such as an alien dog attack), is very exposition heavy, which creates some pacing flaws. While not bad per se, it’s just not fun. The original film honed in on strong character moments like when Hawkins tells Billy a dirty joke, or when Mac kills a scorpion on his arm. The characters are lovable, and the fun bleeds from their very essence. I will say this though: the characters in PREDATORS are a beautiful reflection of the 80’s as they’re completely vulnerable. At no point do you honestly think they can defeat these alien creatures, so it adds an enormous amount of tension, suspense, and believability. I often look to Ripley and John McClane as reference points.
Unlike PREDATOR, PREDATORS is a very dark film. It’s bleak from the moment Royce crashes ass first on the alien planet. The tone is serious and the plot simple. As shocking as it sounds, the simplicity of PREDATORS is what makes it work. There’s nothing more vomit inducing when a sequel pushes the boundaries too far. Rodriguez and company took the Predator mythology and then crash-landed it on an alien planet. The Predators live to hunt, but why? There’s a brilliant addition to the mytho as they explain the Predators are “learning,” and becoming “better.” For what? Maybe an invasion? They even find a clever way of referencing the first film and Arnold’s infamous mud sequence (resulting in a brilliant pay-off). The finale is so simple, and yet so incredibly smart that it’s hard to not stand up and cheer a bit.
The big fight sequence also got me thinking about the violence, which is topnotch. It’s obvious nobody held back. You’ll see hanging corpses (even of other alien life forms), spines being ripped out and plenty of decapitations. It’s nice and violent; KNB loaded up on the practical effects (I couldn’t identify any CG in the gore) and delivered A+ craft.
It’s weird because, as I’m reading over this review, it sounds a bit negative; but in all honesty PREDATORS is a pretty awesome flick. There’s no question in my mind that Antal and Rodriguez are die-hard fans. While they missed the “tone” of the original, they captured everything else ranging from the colorful characters to the score and sound design (the gunfire gave me goose bumps). The score completely captured the spirit of the ’87 film and even took some inspiration from Cameron’s ALIENS. Sh*t, the end credits kick on with Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally”, a song from the amazing helicopter scene in the original (watch it below).
With a little trimming (they could have removed Laurence Fishburne’s entire scene) and the addition of some light humor, PREDATORS could have easily been a nearly perfect homage. Still, this will be a nice addition to anyone’s collection, completing a trilogy in my eyes. PREDATORS is loaded with action, gore, and freakin’ cool Predators; this is what summer movies are made of.