Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Recent Watches: Predators (2010)

When “Predators” came out in 2010, I was surprisingly hyped for it. If you ignore the cross-over flicks, it had been two whole decades since we had a real “Predator” sequel. Producer Robert Rodriguez promised to make a worthy sequel that took the series in a new direction and expanded on the mythology in interesting ways. An up-and-coming director, Nimrod Antal, was hooked into directing and a worthy cast was assembled. When the movie came out, I even got a bunch of my nerdy high school friends together to see it. I walked out disappointed, maybe because I was putting too many expectations on what was meant to be a modest creature thriller.

A group of killers awaken in free-fall, tumbling towards a jungle. As the mixture of soldiers, mercenaries, criminals, enforcers, and one seemingly normal man get to know each other, they realize what’s going on. They are on an alien world. They are being tracked by unseen forces, seemingly hunting them for sport. They are on a game preserve planet, pursued by the Predators. As they struggle to survive and work together, the disparate group realizes there is in-fighting among their captors, which could be their ticket home.

“Predator” was a clever combination of an eighties action flick and an extraterrestrial horror movie, with a great cast and even better direction. These perhaps humble beginnings spawned an extensive series of comics, novels, toys, and video games. This was the universe “Predators” was entertaining in to. The film attempts to expand on the established “Predator” mythology in new ways. The sequel takes the original’s sci-fi spin on “The Most Dangerous Game” concept to its natural conclusion. This time, the humans are being hunted… On an alien world. These Predators have hounds, spiky dog-like creatures that pursue their prey, which leads to one of the best scenes in the movie. One of the aliens even has a robotic falcon on its suit, which it surveys the area with. The bulky armors that hunters wore in the “Alien vs. Predator” films are thankfully ejected, returning to the stripped-down look of the original. All of these are clever additions.

In some other ways, “Predators” bites off more then it can chew. An aspect of the film that was heavily hyped is that the film deals with two warring clans of Predators. Disappointing, this is a brief aspect of the film. The promised Pred-on-Pred fight happens once, late in the film, and doesn’t last long. The villainous alien, called either the Super Predator or the Berserker, is an ugly design too, with wider jaws and a more detailed head. The inter-species war is such small part of the movie that it feels like a tacked-on idea. “Predators” also doesn’t give us much of a peek into the aliens’ home world either. A subplot about Lawrence Fishburne as a survivor hiding on the planet doesn’t amount to much. Fishburne’s bizarre, over-the-top performance doesn’t help any either. It mostly feels like a variation on the original movie in a new setting. From the fan service perspective, “Predators” is still a bit of a let-down. Even the callbacks to the original, like the reappearance of Ol’ Painless or another character coating themselves in mud, feels a bit desperate.

Something that is occasionally mocked is the movie casting Adrian Brody as its bad ass hero. Brody sure has had an odd career, hasn’t he? An Oscar-winner who has done time in lots of schlock, he gives it his all even in material as dire as “InAPPropreite Comedy.” As Royce, the morally ambiguous anti-hero of the film, Brody is surprisingly good. He’s believable as a stone-cold killer. His whispered dialogue actually helps up the tension. The dude put on a lot of muscle for the part too. I also really like Alice Bragga as Isabelle, the female lead. The more compassionate of the team, Bragga brings a humanity to the role while still being an effectively tough soldier.

Sadly, we don’t get to know the rest of the cast very well. It sometimes feel like the writers dropped a bunch of stereotypes onto the alien world. What do you think of when imagining the most dangerous people from around the world? We have a Mexican drug cartel enforcer, a shiv-wielding prison psychopath, the stoic Yakuza, a Russian super-soldier, and a death squad member from an African war zone. Sometimes, the movie wastes likable character actors in these thin parts. Danny Trejo – go ahead and guess which one he is – is underutilized and exits the film far too soon. Walter Goggins as the convict goes way over the top, which may be more of a scripting problem. Oleg Taktarov has some humanizing moments but still isn’t given much to do. I like the Japanese guy but he’s mostly a cipher. Only Topher Grace, as the wolf in sheep’s clothing, makes much of an impression. Unfortunately, the internet spoiled the reveal about his character, probably the film’s most clever element.

“Predators” is never truly effective as a horror flick. It occasionally builds a little intensity but never any scares. It fares slightly better as an action flick. There’s no distracting shaky-cam at the very least. The fight with the hounds works well. The duel between a Predator and the yakuza is slightly cheesy but memorable. The fight between the Predator should have lasted longer but works while it does. The movie certainly splatters plenty of green blood. The final duel between our hero and the Berserker underwhelms though. It essentially replays scenes from the original, without putting a unique twist on it. “Predators” was modestly budgeted. This is clear not just in the limited screen-time of the monsters but in the half-assed CGI, which is not convincing.

Weirdly, “Predators” might work the best before the titular aliens are introduced. The scenes of the cast exploring the planet, figuring out what’s happening and what their situation is, are the most effective in the entire movie. You know where it’s going but it is fun to see the wheels roll into place. “Predators” still doesn’t live up to its potential. Maybe that upcoming, Shane Black-written reboot will. The third film isn’t an embarrassment to the legacy either. It’s an occasionally entertaining but mostly unextraordinary entry into the franchise, with some clever ideas it doesn’t capitalize on and others that seem undercooked. [6/10]

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