Movie Review: Predators (2010)
Sometimes it seems like some movies are made only for the sake of beating a few more dollars out of a long dead cash cow. Predators, like the Alien vs. Predator movies and Predator 2 before it, is one of these, trying to make a buck off of the titular villain from the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie that, 23 years later, is worth more of your time than Nimród Antal’s limp-wristed re-envisioning. It has the same score, the same jungle setting, a few of the same guns, and a few new kinds of bad guys for our assemblage of actors to run from, but none of it matters because of one simple fact: Schwarzenegger villains only work against Schwarzenegger.
Predators makes a game effort though, dropping eight people onto an alien planet, none of them remembering anything about their trip from Earth. After all of them have figured out that they’re not each others enemy, we’re told that these eight men and women are the world’s greatest killers, predators (a-ha!), and that they’re on a game preserve as the game. They go off looking for whatever is hunting them and are picked off one by one until the only guys left are the ones who we’re supposed to care about and the ones we’re not sure of.
As for those eight, we have five soldiers (Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Oleg Taktarov, Danny Trejo, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), one prisoner (Walton Groggins), one Yakuza (Louis Ozawa Changchien), and one doctor (Topher Grace), who the Predators must have picked up by mistake. They’ve got whatever they landed with. meaning that the soldiers have all kinds of guns, the Yakuza has a sword, the prisoner has a shiv, and the doctor, well, has his wits. All of this seems helpful until you remember that Predators are giant, muscular things covered with body armor, hidden by cloaking devices, armed with guns that turn humans to goo. Here, they act as murderous popularity contest judges—just when you’re annoyed by one of the humans, they go splat.
As far as summer guns ‘n explosions movies go, Predators is anemic but harmless, automatically making it the second best movie in the much maligned franchise, which has suffered trips to South Central Los Angeles and endless rubber tail-swinging bouts against the Aliens. Considering that you can plot a graph showing the quality of these movies going down drastically in relation to the amount of backstory and mythology piled on to a character who was really only interesting as an unknown, it is maybe for the best that Adrien Brody and company don’t learn anything about their tormentors besides the fact that there are big ones and little ones. It’s not that I’m against developing characters, but hey, you’ve seen one Predator ritually clean a human skull, you’ve seen ‘em all ritually clean a human skull.
But Predators‘ giant misstep is that, unlike the previous Predator movies, this one doesn’t take place on Earth. When you throw a commando unit into a jungle to fight the forces of evil, the rules are pretty much imprinted to our DNA. You parachute drop a group of scrawny killers onto an alien planet, and suddenly there are questions. The Predaterriers, for example. If one guy can take out Schwarzenegger’s unit without the use of intergalactic bloodhounds, why can’t three or four of the Predators take out Brody’s gang without first incurring the loss of an entire pack of their bizarre and mostly useless pets?
Oh! And who actually approves of bodysnatching people from Earth and dropping them off on some strange planet that was terraformed specifically for the hunting of game? If Predator culture is as tribal as it looks, it stands to reason that the chief or the council or whatever would be able to crunch the numbers and figure out that round-trip airfare for a few guys and a cargo hold full of humans is more expensive, perhaps astronomically so, than allowing a few guys to land on Earth to get their fair share of killing and decorative spinal cords. And what about the families of those captured? Do they get an intergalactic postcard from the Predator with a picture of his new trophy and an explanation that somebody’s husband/father/friend died so that his innards could decorate the athletic club? And what tribal culture has people living within the system so rich that they can afford to have an entire planet custom built for them?
But the biggest question, the one that has been dogging the series since the beginning, I suppose, is this: Why are the Predators so cowardly? Ever since the first movie, these guys have been tooling around the universe in body armor that makes them invisible, with weapons that can quite literally blast a human being in half. But there is always a moment in Predator films where, for some unknown reason, the Predator shows respect to a guy (or girl) for being a great warrior. This after a two hour game of Cowboys and Indians where the cowboys have laser cannons and the Indians have slingshots. Predators takes this question to the extreme, adding three extra invisible bad guys and a whole pack of dogs. That Adrien and Co. make it out of the first frames alive is about as realistic as the Ewoks blowing up the Death Star with a few well-thrown twigs.
That Schwarzenegger villains only work against Schwarzenegger should be a new cardinal rule of action filmmaking. This, like Terminator: Salvation, suffers immensely for the lack of his presence. It even goes so far as to mention the first movie, as if to conjure him from thin air (or plot). There is no comparison between this and the first movie, which also featured better direction and a better supporting cast. That Nimród Antal doesn’t exactly try to do something new with the franchise saves his movie from falling on its face, but it doesn’t exactly do its audience any favors. While Predators isn’t all bad, no part of it stands out as being particularly good, either. Throw this onto the ever growing pile of remakes and re-treads of Schwarzenegger movies, then forget about it.
Predators. Directed by Nimród Antal. With Adrien Brody (Royce), Topher Grace (Edwin), Alice Braga (Isabelle), Walton Goggins (Stans), Oleg Taktarov (Nikolai), Laurence Fishburne (Noland), and Danny Trejo (Cuchillo). Released July 9, 2010, by 20th Century Fox.
Paul Arrand Rodgers
Paul Arrand Rodgers has this blog, and that's about it.