Movie Review: Predators
By Matthew Huntley
July 13, 2010
The odds of Predators actually being good and entertaining were not very promising. For starters, this 20-year-old plus franchise was preceded by two lame-brained installments of Alien vs. Predator, with the last one, Requiem, being among the worst of the worst. The new movie also stars Adrien Brody as the archetypal tough guy. No offense to Brody, but as good an actor as he is, he’s not exactly threatening. When it comes to movies like the original Predator, Arnold Schwarzenegger provides some big shoes to fill.
Fortunately, Predators overcomes those odds. With solid direction, good performances and a halfway intelligent screenplay, it rejuvenates the franchise and makes the idea of any future sequels more encouraging. The movie was directed by Nimrod Antal, whose résumé includes the underrated Vacancy and last year’s so-so Armored. Like those movies, Predators maintains a good amount of energy and tension, which only get deflated during the routine action sequences.
The movie wastes no time getting started. It opens with a Black Ops solider named Royce (Brody) free falling from the sky. He suddenly wakes up, pulls his chute and lands in a remote jungle, which "could be the Amazon." Others fall near him: a Mexican drug cartel enforcer (Danny Trejo); a Chechnyan soldier with a mini gun (Oleg Taktarov); an IDF sniper (Alice Braga); a death row inmate (Walton Goggins); an RUF rebel (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali); a Japanese assassin (Louis Ozawa Changchien); and an American doctor (Topher Grace).
After they explore the area, the group realizes they’re not in Kansas anymore. In fact, they’re not even on Earth. Royce deduces he and the others were specifically chosen because they’re the world’s most specialized and unapologetic killers (with the exception of the doctor), and they’re on a game preserve being hunted. “We’re the game,” he says.
Of course, we know the hunters are those pesky alien creatures known as predators, with their muscular, human-type bodies; big heads; floppy mouths; sharp teeth; and thick dreads. Antal and the screenplay by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch do a good job of building tension because they don’t reveal the predators right away. There’s a terrific scene when one member of the group senses he’s being watched and there’s an unsettling point of view shot from the predator up in the tree. When the character looks up, we know the predator is camouflaged, but it’s never made certain. Actually revealing the predator would have robbed this scene of its creepiness and excitement.
Eventually, though, the predators attack and we get a handful of shoot ‘em up action sequences that we’ve seen many times over. However, there’s enough build up to each one that they carry more weight than usual.
Laurence Fishburne plays a stranded U.S. soldier who’s been surviving on the planet for the last decade and he reveals the predators’ agenda. Fishburne is particularly strong here and the screenplay gives his character an extra dimension. I would have preferred he have more screen time and played an even larger role. We see that ten years alone in the jungle has left the man disturbed and it’s a shame he comes and goes so quickly because there’s more we want to know about him.
When people go to a movie called Predators, they’re anticipating action, high-tech explosions and gore. On that level, the movie delivers, but it does so without completely dumbing down the screenplay. I appreciated the extra time Antal devotes to creating mystery and suspense and would have liked it even more had the movie focused less on action and stunts and more on the psychoses of the characters. It had a chance to let the actors go beyond action movie archetypes and generate ample substance, but it ultimately settles for style and spectacle, albeit good style and spectacle.
Perhaps I’m asking for too much from what is obviously a summer popcorn movie, but at least it exceeded my expectations. Antal slows things down enough so the actors can perform and he lets the story and tension build so they turn out to mean something. And of course, the movie sets the franchise up for another sequel, but this is a sequel I would look forward to watching because it seems there’s more story to tell. With the closing shots, we sense there are good things to come. One of those may even be that substance I was talking about.