Nimród Antal | 107 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R
It’s two-and-a-half years since this was released? Never! If it didn’t say so on multiple websites, I’d never believe it. Where does the time go?!
Predators is writer-director-producer-editor-composer-etc Robert Rodriguez’s attempt to relaunch the Predator franchise, after the mediocre Predator 2 killed it in 1990 and the utterly appalling Aliens vs Predator 2 killed it again in 2007. Based on the fact we’re two years on and there’s been no word of a sequel, I guess he didn’t succeed. Which is a shame, because the original film is fun action/sci-fi entertainment and this is very much in its spirit.
Based on a screenplay Rodriguez wrote in the mid ’90s (deemed too expensive at the time, and since re-written thanks to other films doing some of the stuff in it (chiefly Avatar, apparently)), Predators sees a bunch of unconnected people dropped into a mysterious jungle. All of them have some skill in the field of death-dealing — except, that is, for a doctor — and most are armed to the teeth. Where are they? Why are they there? And what’s that coming after them?
I’ve left my plot description vaguer than most you’ll find, including on the film’s own DVD/BD releases, because the more you know the more the early part of the movie drags. Most blurbs give away the revelations contained within the first act, which makes it an almost gratingly slow start. I reckon it would probably work well in isolation, but I’m not sure how many people are going to see this without having heard more of the premise than I’ve let on. When you know where it’s going, it seems to plod a little; equally, if all you know is that a group of people face a gang of Predators in a jungle then it works fine (it still takes the aliens a while to show up, but then so does the original).
It’s a similar story elsewhere in the film. If you haven’t already accurately guessed what the ‘twist’ is with the doctor just from me even mentioning him, then I’ll be surprised. You may also be aware that Laurence Fishburne is in the film — he’s in the trailer and, naturally, one of the top-billed names. If you weren’t aware, sorry; but if you are (as, indeed, you now are), then his lack of appearance early on will likely clue you in to the circumstance under which he’ll be found. But if you’re not expecting him, that’s all fine and dandy. But now you are. Sorry.
In fairness, the story does manage to pull out a few mysteries. There’s a fair share of action sequences too, naturally, but it’s not an entirely stock plot merely peppered with gunfights. Rodriguez and co have made the effort to push the mythology in new directions; ones which seem to build naturally out of other Predator media, even though those aren’t specifically mentioned. Indeed, although there’s a direct reference to the original film (plus a smattering of callbacks in dialogue), the production team were told to avoid looking at the other films, games and comics for inspiration. You’ve no need to suffer anything else to enjoy this. Indeed, it works even without seeing the original film.
In the special features Rodriguez comments that the film could function even if the Predators didn’t turn up, because you’ve got a gang of characters who might be quite happy to turn on each other if need arose. There’s nothing revelatory amongst the gang of humans, but they’re more characterised than the simple canon fodder of the original film, and the relative dearth of big names will keep you guessing as to the order of their inevitable dispatch.
The main draw is still the action, which is suitably exciting on the whole. Best of all is a sword fight between a Yakuza and a Predator. Who’d’ve thought of engaging a Predator in a sword fight, eh? I love a sword fight, and while this is of course an atypical example, it shows the film’s level of creativeness with its inherited elements. It’s also a beautifully shot segment, making it one of the stand-out parts of the film.
Most of the direction is as good, though I have to mention it because of one unfortunate trope it develops: there’s an awful lot of lingering shots of the cast Looking At Something behind the camera, before we get to see it. Once you notice this — and you may well, like me, notice it pretty early on — it quickly becomes unintentionally comical, because it just. Keeps. Happening. And even when you think it’s gone, it makes a last-minute resurgence at an inopportune moment. I’m certain this wasn’t a deliberate comic device — it was probably employed to add tension and mystery and all that — but, for me, it just became a bit of a joke.
Then there’s the awful atmosphere-ruining end credits song. Honest to God, there’s weird artistic flourishes, and there’s immediately trashing the mood you’ve just strived to create. I know why it’s there — it’s another reference to the original — but it’s a glaring clash of styles that shatters the very particular ending the film has. On the commentary, Rodriguez asserts that it “deflates the tension in a great fun way.” Hm. Hmmm. What a misstep.
And the ending itself… is it sequel bait? It’s not as bad as Prometheus — an unintentionally resonant parallel given the franchises’ shared history, but not an inappropriate comparison. But where Ridley Scott’s confusing picture leaves glaring unanswered questions that demand a Part 2, Predators’ conclusion is both open-ended but also somehow fitting. Which is lucky, because I don’t think a follow-up is forthcoming.
For all the criticism, or gentle ribbing, I’ve levelled at the film throughout this review, it’s an enjoyable experience. There’s nothing deep or meaningful, and nothing that will enliven or revolutionise the genre, but as a sci-fi/action movie it’s at least as good as its blokey-classic predecessor.
The UK TV premiere of Predators is on Channel 4 tonight at 9pm.
This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2012. Read more here.