Predators – a review

July 20, 2010

First off, let me point your attention to one thing. How many blockbuster, shoot’em up action movies star an Academy Award winner? I don’t think there are too many. Predators does. When they announced that Adrien Brody, known for his Oscar-winning performance as the eponymous pianist in The Pianist would star in the newest film of the Predator franchise, I doubt I was the only one who nearly choked on his coffee. How could the skinny, quiet, sad-looking man possibly play the lead role in a sequel to a movie starring a young Arnold Schwarzenegger – in his physical prime and speaking almost unintelligible English? He nails it.

Let’s get back to Brody and the rest of the cast a bit later, and start from the top. The concept of Predators is simple: a bunch of dangerous people are kidnapped and dropped on a strange planet for the Predators’ private safari. What follows is just what you would expect: big guns, explosions, jungle getting torn to shreds, gory deaths and Predators, Predators, Predators. Apart from the plural Predators, these are precisely the elements that made the original Predator film a scifi/horror/action classic. The big question here is whether Predators can bring anything new to the table.

Predators has been bashed for being unoriginal, of being nothing but a cheap remake of the 1987 film, of having no substance. I have to disagree. While there are a lot of references to the first film to satisfy fanboys – such as yours truly – the two films have different concepts, different settings, different plots, different characters and their dynamics and so on. Yes, they’re both set in a jungle. Yes, they both have Predators knocking off members of a heavily armed group of killers one by one.  That’s about it. Oh, there is one excellent similarity: Predators uses the original film’s theme in the soundtrack, and the rest of the soundtrack is also heavily influenced by the score in Predator.

The characters in Predators are pretty much standard fare, mostly one-trick ponies. They have, however, a few things going for them. There are little touches making the characters just a bit more likable/loathable. I like the idea, that the characters as a rule are not heroes. In the original Predator movie (and most action flicks, come to think of it) the main characters are heroes, regardless of the mayhem and death they cause. Not so in Predators, and the movie does make a good effort to make the viewer root for a bunch of monsters, and I’m not talking about the aliens here. The acting is solid and pretty much what you’d expect. As mentioned, Adrien Brody pulls of his mercenary anti-hero very nicely, while Walton Goggins (of Shield fame) manages to create a somewhat sympathetic sick rapist. Which is actually a tad disturbing, now that I think about it. Laurence Fishburn puts in a nice performance too, even if it borders on over-acting. Nimród Antal is a fair director, and gets a good show out of the cast.

I have to mention the storytelling elements in the movie as well. Unlike a lot of movies today, every single thread is not unraveled. There are blanks instead, left for the viewer’s imagination to fill. I’m not talking any big mysteries, just little touches that add colour to the movie. Kind of like that 18th century gun the Predators have at the end of Predator 2, suggesting a lot more than is shown. While on the subject of Predator 2, Predators only mentions the original Predator film, suggesting that Predator 2 and the AVP films aren’t part of the canon. While the AVP flicks are dreck hopefully quickly forgotten, I’ve always liked Predator 2, so it was a bit of a disappointment.

There’s one thing I love above all in Predators: the reliance on makeup and guys in suits over CGI. The Predators look fleshy, heavy and well…real. There’s none of the unnatural lightness and jerky movement that’s there in even the most advanced CGI – such as that in Avatar. The makeup is great, the Predators look absolutely lovely and all the iconic sights and sounds are present. Overall, the movie has a very nice, grimy and physical feel to it, which is essential to a good action movie.

So, any flaws? A few. 10-15 minutes could’ve been cut to keep the movie’s pace up. There are some scenes and plot twists that you can spot coming a mile away, as well as a few problems solved so easily that it reeks just a bit of deus ex machina. The lead female – the only female in the film – plays a very one-dimensional character with next to no development. Come to think of it, she’s pretty much the hero of the film, which is a bit boring, to be frank. Is it the action film makers’ fear of being labeled misogynistic that leads to female lead characters being all nicey-nice, and in general much more ethical, intelligent and caring than the men? See AVP for an awful example – both of a movie and of an über-heroine.

Overall verdict: Predators is a good film, even a great one at times. Do note, that when I talk of a good movie in this review, I mean entertaining. Predators is no Citizen Kane or Godfather, make no mistake. It is, however miles and miles beyond the terrible disappointment of the AVP films, and right up there with the original two films of the franchise. If you’re into scifi action, there’s nothing better available, and probably won’t be for a while. If you’re a fan of the Predator franchise, you can’t possibly miss this.

Here’s the official site.

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