Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Predators (2010)

I didn't have high hopes for this one. I know Robert Rodriguez was involved, and we all love him, but Aliens Vs Predator and AVP2: Requiem took a healthy dump on both franchises and dug the predator series into such a pit that it may never fully recover. Therefore, I don't want it to seem like I'm damning with faint praise when I say that Predators exceeded my expectations. It's not perfect, but it gets a lot of stuff right.

The premise is great, and seems like a far more logical progression of Predator than the sequel(s) we ended up with. A team of international badasses are air-dropped into a jungle; there's an American mercenary (Adrien Brody), a Mexican drug cartel enforcer (Danny Trejo), a death row inmate (Walton Goggins), a Russian soldier (Oleg Taktarov), a Yakuza guy (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a soldier in a Sierra Leone death-squad (Mahershalalhashbaz [phew] Ali) and a woman (Alice Braga). Also Topher Grace, as himself. Pretty soon they realise that they are being hunted by some sort of alien hunter... a "predator" if you will. More than one, actually. Hence the title.

The movie pushes the big-game-hunter allegory even further, adding the idea of alien wildlife preserves and Predator hunting dogs. We also find out that there are two warring races of Predators. The one Arnold fought in the first film was just the space-nerd to this movie's space-jocks, and the big ones even give one of the smaller ones a wedgie and hang him from a space-totem. Luckily we don't find out too much more about the Predator race, because if you give it any thought at all the idea of primitive, hunting-obsessed aliens who accessorise with skulls and tribal ornaments etc. yet have also mastered intergalactic space travel is pretty stupid. Also I should note that there's only four Predators in the film (three big, one small). That bit from the trailer where Brody is covered in dozens of Predator laser sights isn't actually in the film. I hate it when they do that.

The movie's title subtly tries to trick us into thinking that this is the Aliens to Predator's Alien, but I don't know about that. Aliens is rightly regarded as the gold standard in movie sequels because James Cameron pushed things in a completely different direction. He realised that maintaining the same level of suspense as the first film was impossible because the alien was no longer a mystery, so he decided to make a balls-out action film instead. They don't really do that here. It plays out a lot like the first film in that they build the tension slowly and keep the Predators off-screen for most of the movie. Some teenagers probably got bored, and that's always a good thing, but part of me wishes they'd cut loose and made something really crazy and action-packed. Things get pretty good in the third act, though.

Technically, the film is really good. Top marks. Thankfully there's no CGI Predators bounding weightlessly from tree to tree; it's all dudes in rubber suits, which still look a little goofy and clumsy in action but they're real and tangible and I think that's more important. The film also uses a subtly reworked version of Alan Silvestri's fantastic score from the first film, which is great. Even better, the action is shot in an old school style where you can actually tell what the fuck is going on. The only time shaky cams get involved in when a couple of Predators start fighting with eachother and they've got to disguise the fact that they can only lumber around and wrestle like two fat kids fighting over cake.

I was skeptical of Adrien Brody, but he makes a pretty convincing badass. I should also mention Larry Fishburne's performance as a crazed soldier who has survived several rounds with the Predators. Actually everyone is pretty good. These aren't rich, memorable characters, but they do a good job. One thing I do miss from the first film is the easy-going chemistry between the cast. They were all stereotypes there too, but you bought that they were a highly-skilled team that had built up a friendship over a long time. It gave some dramatic weight to Carl Weather's betrayal and their eventual deaths. Here nobody knows eachother, everyone is distrustful and most of them are willing to sell eachother out at the earliest opportunity. It's not as fun that way.

On that note, I've heard complaints that this film is too serious. I'd rather that than a film that's too jokey and self-referential, but on the other hand it's definitely less quotable than the first film. Walton Goggins has most of the funny lines, but they aren't exactly "I ain't got time to bleed" or "this stuff will make you a god damn sexual-tyrannosaurus". There's one part where he says "When I get back home I am going to snort so much cocaine", which is pretty funny, but then he goes on to add "...and rape so many fine bitches." It made me a little uncomfortable. They must have thought they were onto some comedy gold because they keep rubbing it in, "I'll be like, five o'clock? Time to rape some fine bitches." Get it? Rape.

For me the most memorable one was the Yakuza guy, mainly because he was so mysterious. I though it was pretty interesting when he took off his shoes so they wouldn't get dirty when walking through the jungle, which seems like the dumbest thing you could possibly do. Maybe it was a shout-out to Predator director John TcTiernan's work on Die Hard. I also liked the scene where he has a swordfight with a Predator. You know, because all Japanese people know how to use swords. It's a pretty big scene to devote to a character who has maybe one or two lines and whose presence is barely acknowledged by the other characters. In fact, with a few slight modifications they could have had a Sixth Sense style twist where it turns out that his character was a ghost all along.

On the subject of twists, Topher Grace acts weirdly throughout the film, knowing more than he should about the local flora and surviving at moments where he really should have died. I figured it was leading up to a twist where he was working with the Predators, herding the rest of the characters into certain areas, treating them when they're sick (he claims to be a doctor) and making sure they don't try to do anything dishonorable, like killing themselves. There is a twist, but it's not that interesting.

There are a few callbacks and homages to the first film but they stop short of ripping it off. The Russian guy has a huge mini-gun, which must have been a real bitch when he parachuted into the jungle, and there's the scene where they all fire wildly into the trees. At the end Adrien Brody creates a big flaming arena, takes his shirt off (dude is riiiipped) and covers himself in mud. There's no real reason for it (it doesn't fuck with the alien's heat vision, which was a pretty stupid idea anyway) except that that's how the first movie ended so they've got to do it here. One of the Predators even has some of the sound loop recordings from the first film. I don't know how he got them since that Predator was blown up at the end, but I'm willing to accept that he uploaded them to Predator youtube before he died.

I don't think this film deserves a lot of the bad reviews it's gotten. The director is this dude Nimród Antal. Yes, people on the internet, his first name is Nimród. You are hilarious for pointing it out. He's made a few feature films, but I've only seen half of Vacancy so I don't feel qualified to comment on the rest of his work. He does a good job here, though. All I wanted was a film about Predators that didn't shit the bed, and this one fit the bill. Maybe a tiny bit of pee dribbled out, but that's it. It's a competent sequel and unlike my bed-wetting metaphor it was executed with more class and restraint than you'd expect.

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