Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Recent Watches: AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)

As a young nerd, I dreamed about an “Alien vs. Predator” movie. The concept of crossing over Fox’s two most famous monsters had proved popular in comic books and video games. Those video games, including a first-person shooter on the Atari Jaguar and an awesome arcade beat-em-up by Capcom, were where I was introduced to the concept. There’s not much reason for the Aliens and Predators to fight, beyond it being cool. Which should really be enough. A movie version of the idea had been kicking around for years, long enough to disgust Sigourney Weaver, James Cameron, and Ridley Scott. The prospect of an “Alien vs. Predator” movie should have excited me. When the film actually got made, it didn’t. Rightfully hated hack Paul W. S. Anderson being the director's chair sunk all anticipation. When the movie got a neutered PG-13 rating, my disinterest graduated to hate. Then they called it “AVP: Alien vs. Predator” because abbreviations are kuul and x-treme. Naturally, I hated it when I finally saw it on cable. A decade later, it’s still an affront to both franchises.

In the present day, the Weyland Corporation discovers something unusual in Antarctica. A hate signature under the ice seems to resemble a pyramid. Mr. Weyland gathers together a bunch of explorers, scientists, and archaeologists. Among them is Alexa Woods, an experienced ice climber and Arctic explorer. Once on the icy island, the team discovers an underground pyramid. Little do they know that this a structure built by Predators, as a training ground for inexperienced hunters. Deep within the pyramid’s bowels, providing prey for these novice Predators, is a Queen Xenomorph. The humans’ presence awakens the aliens, who begin to breed. It’s not long before the explorers cross paths with both dangerous lifeforms.

There are many reasons to hate “AVP: Alien vs. Predator,” the obnoxious abbreviation at the title’s start being one. Mostly, I hate “AVP” for doing lame, stupid shit with the mythology. Paul W. S. Anderson reportedly worked on the script for eight years, which speaks poorly of both his writing abilities and his understanding of either series. Let me unpack this bullshit. The Predators have been involved with human civilization for thousands of years. They helped us build the pyramids, all of them, for… Some reason? Booooooo. The “aliens built the pyramids” story concept is lame and overdone. It also doesn’t make any sense for the Predators who have, previously, seen we Earthlings as nothing but prey. (The logistics of how the Arctic pyramid got built are fuzzy as well.) The movie has no business being set on Earth, anyway. You’re telling me that xenomorphs have been on Earth for thousands of years? Way to demystify that, Paul. The dude can’t even keep basic details straight. In one scene, it takes minutes for a chest-burster to gestate inside someone. It takes an entire movie for the chest-burster to escape the Predator. The movie contributes nothing but bad ideas to the broader mythology of either series.

Throughout their previous two movies, the Predators were the commandos of outer space, big game killers armed to hunt metaphorical bear. Only the toughest actors on Earth, like Arnold Schwarzeneger and, uh, Danny Glover, could take them down. One of many major oversights Anderson made while writing “AVP” is to make this batch of Predators big, stupid lame-os. These are entry-level Predators and are mostly incompetent at their job. A single xenomorph kills one after a brief scuffle. One goes down without much of a fight, even. Another gets face-hugged like an asshole and doesn’t realize he’s pregnant throughout the rest of the movie. Furthermore, the Predators look like shit. Their armors are bulky and overdone. Their wrist blades extend to absurd length, in addition to rotating around. Despite being there to hunt xenomorphs, their extensive armor is useless against the creature’s acidic blood. (The effectiveness of said blood varies from scene to scene.) Even the masks look stupid, with a bunch of extra detailing. The unmasked Predators look like shit too, with overly emphasized mandibles that are always flaring. The Predators are drained of all their threatening factor and their designs are needlessly junked up.

Well, the Predators suck. How does the other half of the titular prize match fair? “AVP” maintains many of the bad design revisions from “Alien: Resurrection,” such as the stubbier heads, wider tails, and more animal-like postures. This is bad. However, the movie at least keeps the aliens threatening. One successfully takes out most of the Predators. They hide in shadows, dripping slime and barring their fangs. About the only time the movie is successful as an action film is the initial fight between an alien and a Predator. It’s a decently choreographed fight and has the fun factor of seeing these monsters tussle on-screen for the first time. However, later action scenes are weaker. The Queen Xenomorph’s climatic rampage is badly handled, the action being unclear and clumsy. There’s little interesting about the Preds tearing through the human cast, as the movie overplays the invisibility gimmick.

Paul W. S. Anderson’s direction can best be described as tacky. The director was still beating the “bullet time” horse four years after “The Matrix.” At least twice, something flies through the air in slow-motion while the camera spins around it. The worst is when a Predator cleaves a mid-air facehugger in two with his fucking glaive. The film’s visual presentation is flat. A scene of a cloaked Predator leaping between two walls is bafflingly bad in design. For the record, the director seems completely ignorant of either creatures’ subtextual possibilities. The rape anxieties the “Alien” series is build on are not present. There’s one embarrassing scene where victims are cocoon, prepared for impregnating, but it lacks meaning. The Predators’ quasi-feminine status as challengers to macho theatrics is undermined by these hunters being so ineffectual. The film is also over-reliant on CGI. Shots of swarming xenomorphs look like video game cut scenes. At the very least, the underground pyramid is well designed, even if it feels like a holdover from Anderson’s shitty “Resident Evil” movie. (Okay, having someone watch “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman” on TV early in the film was a cute in-joke.)

The movie’s most inexcusable crime is getting the series mythology so horrendously wrong. Its second biggest sin are the irritating human characters. Sanaa Lathan’s Alexa is mostly an ill-defined tough girl character. The scene where she earns the respect of the Predators strikes me as dubious, even if there’s a precedent in the comics for such a thing. Raoul Bava as archaeologist Sebastian is by far the most annoying character in the film. Somehow, he can read the Predator’s language. He doesn’t talk to other characters, he monologues towards them. This climaxes during an intensely irritating scene, where he reads a shit-ton of exposition off the pyramid walls about the aliens’ involvement with Earth history. Gee, Paul, you couldn’t think of a more elegant way to get that out there? The character dies but not soon enough. Lance Henriksen, as the series’ sole familiar face, plays Charles Bishop Weyland, presumably the model for the future Bishop android. Lance isn’t given a bunch to do, sadly. The rest of the characters are indistinct and completely forgettable.

In conclusion, “AVP: Alien vs. Predator” still fucking sucks. It was a can’t-loose premise. How do you fuck up a monster rumble between Aliens and Predators? With a boring story, annoying characters, crappy creature designs, forgettable action, and an obvious lack of respect for either series’ established mythologies, that’s how. All of which are symptoms of handing the keys of these beloved films to Paul W. S. Anderson. Hopefully, the same mistake won’t be made when the film adaptation of “Aliens vs. Predator vs. the Terminator” rolls into production. [3/10]

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