The 1987 John McTiernan film Predator is widely regarded as a sci-fi classic. Equal parts Rambo and Alien, the movie followed Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime) and his elite commando unite as they bushwhack their way through the jungles of Central America in the hope of free some hostages and taking down some terrorists. Along the way, however, the group starts getting picked off by a seemingly invisible extraterrestrial entity, and the film builds and builds until everyone but Dutch is dead, culminating in a one-on-one showdown between our hero and the alien hunter.
Three years later, Stephen Hopkins brought us the much-anticipated sequel to Predator, this time taking the action to the streets of Los Angeles and casting Danny Glover in the leading role. Predator 2 was…well, inferior to its predecessor, and while it introduced some way cool predator technology, the movies wasn’t very good (in my opinion, anyway). It was followed by two terrible Alien vs. Predator movies, and predator fans everywhere began to wonder if they’d ever see anything that matched the coolness that was the first film in the franchise.
Then, in 2010, Robert Rodriguez and Vacancy director Nimrod Antal teamed up to make Predators, a film that purported to be the killers-in-the-jungle sequel to Predator that the fans were craving. But after three crummy movies that watered down the awesomeness of the invisible alien hunter, can Predators recapture what made Predator cool in the first place? Read on to find out!
I already knew exactly what I was going to get going into Predators. After reading countless reviews and hearing numerous opinions from friends, I had a pretty good sense of how the plot was going to progress, what the twists were, and who was going to survive until the end credits. While some people might see this as a glut of spoilers, I didn’t mind, because it set my expectations exactly where they should have been. It also lead to an amusing incident with the film’s opening scene.
I knew that the film opened with Adrien Brody’s character waking up tumbling through the air above a jungle, desperately trying to get his parachute to open, but when I was watching it, my DVD skipped during the 20th Century Fox logo and suddenly, halfway through the familiar fanfare, I was in freefall. It was a jarring experience, to be sure, and I immediately wondered if it was intentional, because if it was, it was absolutely brilliant. It wasn’t intentional, and I rewatched the first couple of minutes in disappointment that my DVD player had duped me better than Nimrod Antal had. But I can’t really know him for that, I just thought it would have been cool to throw the audience off by doing something like that. Forget the lengthy studio credit introduction and suddenly, unexpectedly, thrust them right into the action. But I’m getting off track.
Predators opens with Adrien Brody and a group of other miscreants being dropped via parachute over a jungle. Everyone finds themselves armed and ready for combat, but unable to remember how they wound up being dumped into a foreign jungle, and there are the standard scenes where everybody has to convince everybody else that they’re all on the same team. These scenes give us decent introductions to the characters – Adrien Brody’s mercenary, Alice Braga’s CIA sniper, Walter Goggins’ mass-murderer/rapist, Oleg Taktarov’s war hero, Louis Changchien’s Yakuza, Danny Trejo’s drug cartel enforcer, and Topher Grace’s doctor – but we never learn much about them besides their violent careers. It works, though, as Adrien Brody and Alice Braga are the heroes here, and therefore we get to know them much better than the other characters, who you can tell from the start are essentially predator fodder.
I was surprised by how effective the group dynamic worked. Everyone plays their part well, however small, and they manage to keep the film feeling as though it is rooted in reality, even though it takes place on a completely alien world. Any movie that features extraterrestrials fighting humans has to have solid human characters for the audience to connect to, and in this respect, Predators totally succeeds. Adrien Brody even makes a decent action hero, much to my surprise, and man did he ever beef up for the role. Even more surprising, though, is that Topher Grace didn’t annoy the hell out of me.
After meandering through the jungle getting to know eachother, it is revealed that not only are the protagonists stranded on an alien world, but they were specifically selected for their talents in killing people. They’re being hunted by the predators in what is essentially a planet-sized game preserve, and they’re being picked off one by one. Thanks to the marketing of the film, none of this comes as a surprise to anyone in the audience, but I really appreciated the fact that the filmmakers decided to play it as though it were a surprise. Little touches like that actually lend Predators the feeling of an 80’s science fiction action film like the Arnie movies of yesteryear. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the way the movie carries itself, the half-tongue-in-cheek tone that it strikes, is the film’s greatest strength. It changes just enough about the original Predator formula to make it stand on its own, but it also retains a lot of familiarity. The unit of killers, the jungle setting, the exotic brunette, and the huge mini-gun all reminded me of Predator in a very intentional way, but the characters, the multiple predators, the alien dog-beasts and Lawrence Fishburne all gave the movie its own flavour. Actually, thinking on it, Predators could easily stand on its own, and even if I hadn’t seen any of the other predator films, I’d still understand everything that was going on. That’s no small feat, and the mark of a good sequel.
Since I mentioned Lawrence Fishburne, it is also worth mentioning that he is pretty underused. He character doesn’t get a ton of screen time, and while he’s a neat character, he felt a bit like an afterthought. I read on the IMDb that originally Robert Rodriguez wanted Arnold’s character Dutch to return, and as I was watching Fishburne it seemed to me that his character was left over from that. Fishburne does an admirable job of making his brief appearence memorable, but having Dutch reappear would have been 100 times better.
Predators is a very enjoyable film. The action is great, the R rating means that we get to see people being obliterated the way they should be obliterated in a predator movie, the cast is clearly having fun, and everything moves along at a good clip so you never get bored. Opening the film with a skydiving scene really sets the pace for the rest of the running time, and things rarely slow down from start to finish. It’s a good time at the movies, and watching it I was actually reminded of the first time I saw Predator, which can only be a good thing. I was also reminded of the movie Cube, as both films have similar plotlines, with the random group of strangers waking up in an unknown location and having to work together to escape their predicament (with a bit of back-stabbing along the way). While Cube is an undeniably better film, Predators pulls off the stranded strangers plotline nicely and it’s a lot of fun as a result.
Predators will never win any awards, but it’s a step above a lot of schlocky action movies from recent days (I’m looking at you, Expendables) and I will definitely watch it at least once more. Robert Rodriguez and Nimrod Antal have succeeded in giving this Predator fan the follow-up he’s been waiting for, and it’s almost good enough to wipe all memories of the awful Alien vs. Predator films out of my mind. Almost.
3.25 out of 5