The Brothers Strause | 97 mins* | DVD | 15 / R
Aliens vs Public Relations? Sadly not. And when a joke plot like that sounds more appealing than a rematch between two of sci-fi’s greatest monsters, you know you’re in trouble.
In my last Alien/Predator review, I made sure to attack director Paul W.S. Anderson a bit. As well as being renowned for making rubbish films, Anderson is also quite well known for being sequel-shy… and so it is with the AVP franchise, here handing the reins to the less-than-capable special effects-creating Brothers Strause. They supposedly set out with a fan-pleasing remit: primarily an R-rating, but they even make sure to use familiar fonts and sound effects right from the title card. Though said title card is blurry and unclear, obscuring the film’s very name — a sign of things to come, because their ability to please fans extends no further than some vague surface essentials.
To be fair, it can’t be easy to marshal all the familiar tropes of two different franchises into a single film that does something original with them. But that’s no excuse — things like facehuggers and skinned humans are present as if simply ticked off a list, having neither the surprise and mystery of the original appearance (obviously) nor anything new to make them worthwhile. They’re there because they ‘need’ to be, and while it makes some kind of sense to not play them as surprises, there’s nothing remotely new or different to hold our attention instead. Much of it is so poorly done that it’s not even set pieces strung together, it’s ideas for set pieces strung together.
If you thought AVP spent too much time focusing on the Predators rather than the humans (and I did), you’ll find AVPR even worse. It again tries to emulate the build-the-characters-first approach of the best Alien and Predator films, but intercuts their mundane lives with what the Predators and Aliens are up to. No, no, no. Part of the point of the character-based slow-build is to create tension — there’s none of that here. And by not withholding the monsters, the dull lives become even duller. One of the Alien series’ strengths was in making the extraordinary (space travel!) seem mundane (space truckers), but AVPR makes the ordinary seem mundane, and that’s no achievement at all; in fact, that’s a great big failure.
Even the action sequences are a mixed bag. There’s a nice line in harsh and surprising deaths — major characters are suddenly picked off, and with a cast so full of minor actors you can never be certain who’ll make it; and among them are a young boy, pregnant mums, and most of the town gets nuked by the army because the townsfolk trusted them. The final fight makes admirable use of suits and animatronics over CGI, but it’s so dark you can barely tell what’s happening. Similarly, the PredAlien may be great or it may be rubbish — you never see it well enough to tell. It’s not only the climax: over-dark cinematography and typically choppy editing obscure every action sequence. Why is it that in an age where special effects are so improved and there’s a preference for real actors over stunt doubles, action sequences have become harder to follow?
The overall feel is of a horror B-movie — a direct-to-DVD one. It may be a stock phrase for reviewers, but in this case it’s actually true: AVPR genuinely makes AVP look good. It’s a new low even for the Predator series, and it drags the Alien franchise from once lofty heights right down into the gutter with all the other too-long-running horror franchises. However permissable parts of AVPR might be (when judged on its own terms) (with a kindly eye), the inconceivably thorough degradation of a once-great franchise is its greatest crime.
Alien³ was a charming mess. This is just a mess. An irredeemable one.
* AVPR on DVD is 7 minutes longer than in cinemas. This seems to be the only cut available (outside of Germany) and isn’t specially labelled, hence the lack of qualifying “Director’s Cut” or “Extended Cut” or “DVD Cut” in my title.
AVPR featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2009, which can be read in full here.