Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, January 29, 2016

Recent Watches: Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

The first “AVP” had a lousy reception, with critics and especially among fans. I know all the kids at my high school lunch table were as disappointed in it as I was. Despite this, it made money. It won the weekend and, when inflation is disregarded, is actually the highest grossing film in either franchise. You have no idea how much that factoid bums me out. Two years later, a sequel was greenlit out of the blue. The Brothers Strauss, experienced effects guy but first time filmmakers, took the director’s chair. The filmmakers promised to deliver a movie that would satisfy fans of both series, the ones who were disappointed in the previous installment. “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem” was hated even by the fans it set out to please and grossed far less at the box office.  Controversy opinion incoming: I actually enjoy “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem.”

In the final minutes of “AVP,” a Xenomorph/Yautja hybrid was seen bursting from the chest of a dying Predator warrior. “Requiem” picks up right where the first film left off. The PredAlien rampages through the ship, killing the hunters aboard. The ship crashes outside Gunnison, Colorado. The PredAlien, and the set of facehuggers on-board, survive the crash. The aliens begin to tear apart the small town. The ship’s distress signal is received by a lone warrior on the Yautju home world, who heads to Earth to clean up the mess before it gets too out of control. The human residents of Gunnison are caught in the war between the extraterrestrial monsters.

“Requiem” seems to be widely hated by hardened fans of either series. I get this, really. Like its predecessor, the film takes place on Earth, in the present, running counter to what we’ve come to expect from the “Alien vs. Predator” comics and games. The film’s characters are not tough space marines or experienced scientist but teenagers and twenty-somethings. The movie lacks suspense and doubles down on gory special effects. There's also has a mean-spirit thread running through, the script delighting in endangering children and pregnant women. I understand why people dislike these elements. I mean the following as a compliment: “Aliens vs. Predator” reminds me of a trashy, splatterpunk novel. The big cast, characters obsessed with sex, small town setting, plentiful gore, nasty tone, and slimy monsters reads like something out of a Richard Laymon novel. Swap the Xenomorphs and Yautja out with generic monsters, and maybe ramp up the sex and violence, and its very easy to imagine this as a sleazy paperback. Do these elements have any place in the “Alien” or “Predator” series? Probably not. But taken on its own, the film is enjoyable.

Though it didn’t succeed in doing so, “Aliens vs. Predator” obviously wants to please die hard fans of both series. Numerous in-jokes are scattered throughout. Brian Tyler’s score features call-backs to both James Horner’s “Aliens” score and Alan Silvestri’s “Predator” score. “Get to the chopper!” and “One ugly motherfucker” are both uttered. The movie ends by putting a face to the Yutani side of the Weyland-Yutani corporation. Moreover, the film shows us things we’ve always wanted to see. We get a brief glimpse at the Predator home world. The PredAlien, a creature featured in the comics and video games from time to time, is the primary adversary. All of this stuff is cool. It’s evidence that the filmmakers are indeed big fans of both series.

But the biggest indicator that the sequel was made by real fans is that Predator is a bad ass. Referred to as “Wolf” in the credits, this Predator is not merely on a hunt. He’s a cleaner, a specialized agent that swoops in and cleans up other people’s messes. You know this, because he dissolves evidence of both aliens with tubes of blue acid. This means he’s an especially bad-ass member of an entire species of bad-asses. He swoops into town, loaded with weapons. Beyond the wrist blades, shoulder cannons, and cloaking devices, he’s got other toys. The glaives from the previous movie return and are much better used this time. There’s a nifty blade whip and a plasma shotgun. One scene has him blasting the aliens into laser nets set up previously. Compared to the incompetent Predators from the first “AVP,” it’s refreshing to see one that means business and knows what he’s doing.

The Strauss Brothers obviously respect the lore of both series. They don’t introduce any lame ideas into the mythology like Paul W. S. Anderson did last time. They ditch the lame creature designs from the first feature, instead recreating the ridge domes from “Aliens.” The Xenomorphs are shadowy, frightening monsters. One scene, which has an alien leaping through a window to grab the little girl’s father, actually got a jump out of me. The aliens still die fairly easily, even being taken down by the humans and their machine guns. At least the film attempts to make them scary again. Anderson was completely ignorant of the creature’s symbolic meaning. The Strauss Brothers communicate with the subtext in a crude way. The PredAlien force-feeds a pregnant woman some Xenomorph eggs, which is filmed as if it’s a rape scene. It’s not smart but at least they understand that these creatures mean something.

I don’t think people hate “Requiem” because of its nasty gore. I don’t even think it’s the sort of lame monster design for the PredAlien. The dreadlocks certainly look awkward on the traditional Xenomorph frame. Instead, people are down on the movie because of its cast of characters. There’s no doubt that the humans are an utterly generic band. There’s the hero, a good-hearted guy that just got out of prison, looking to redeem himself. There’s his kid brother, a pizza boy who has unrequited romantic feelings for the local hot girl. Said girl has an asshole boyfriend. How about the mother, just returned from the military? Or the local police chief? Really, there’s no reason to care about any of them. The movie even seems to actively dislike them. The hot girl is killed off in a way that’s so sudden, it’s almost funny. Most of the cast ends up dead. Considering the “Return of the Living Dead”-style ending, I’m surprised anyone makes it out alive. Of course the human characters are lame. They’re supposed to be. Wolf is the hero of the movie.

The final monster duel between Wolf and the PredAlien tops anything in the first movie. Gore hounds are sure to be pleased by “Requiem,” as it's almost beginning-to-end mayhem. The movie’s in-jokes, vulgar tone, and focus on bad-ass action makes it feel like fan fiction at times. But, if so, it’s fun fan fiction. Really, the only thing I genuinely dislike about the movie is how dark the photography is and how inconsistent the Predator’s behavior can be. (He’s on a salvage job but sometimes he acts like he’s hunting.) Give the movie a second chance. In the right mind-set, “Aliens vs. Predator” can be a lot of fun. It’s not all an “Alien vs. Predator” movie can be. Taken as a side story to bigger, more important series, it’s an amusing bit of drivel. [7/10]

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