Paul W.S. Anderson’s Alien vs. Predator was a disastrous, pathetic, and lame piece of garbage. I won’t even get into it, but after seeing it at the theatre, midnight showing no less, I wanted my money back. Unfortunately, I got into the showing via a free movie pass from purchasing the Predator Special Edition DVD. So, I couldn’t even get that satisfaction. I don’t think I’ve ever held a film in such disdain as to have the desire to demand my money back. Instead, I wish I had those two hours of my life returned to me. When things were developing for AVP2, obviously there was a lot of speculation and negative light upon it. Though, with Anderson nixed, the film seemed to have some hope. I was very interested in seeing the film theatrically, but then, I heard scores of negative reviews. It really made me back away from it. I see now that was a mistake.
This film picks up directly after the conclusion of the previous AVP film. A Predator-Alien hybrid is born, and begins to wreak havoc on board the Predator space craft. It soon crash lands in a small Colorado town. All Predators on board are killed, and the Xenomorphs are set loose on the population. The crash landing is monitored from the Predator home world (seen for the first time ever on film), and a veteran warrior departs to clean up the mess. Face huggers attack many of the townspeople, giving rise to further Aliens to ravage the town. The lone Predator attempts to hunt and eliminate every trace of the Xenomorphs’ presence. The residents do all they can to defend themselves, but it’s a Catch-22. Anyone with a gun is immediately a target of the Predator, but without firearms, you stand zero chance against the Aliens. Eventually, humans, Aliens, and the Predator collide after dark, and all hell breaks loose. Even help from the National Guard is short-lived, and ultimately, more extreme measures are necessary to eliminate this escalating threat.
Yes, I enjoyed this film (the unrated cut), and kept waiting for something totally bullshit to happen to justify all the god-awful reviews. It never really came. There are definite problems with it, but it’s not deserving of being saddled with the statement that “this isn’t even as good as the first Alien vs. Predator.” I could provide a very long list of how AVP-R is superior to its predecessor, but that’s not the point here. Though, brief comparisons will be made. I am not at all saying AVP-R is of the same caliber as Alien or Predator, but at its lowest, it’s no worse than Predator 2. I’d probably put it a notch higher than Alien 3 (either the theatrical or special edition cut). But let me get into the meat of things.
My first impression of the film was how excellent the cinematography and lighting was from Director of Photography Daniel Pearl (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974 & 2003). There’s a definite cinematic feel to this film with good use of angles, cranes, and camera moves. The film really pushes to give itself a grander scale and impact with its visuals. The few shots on the Predator home world are marvelous. Somewhat reminds me of the scenes on Vulcan in Robert Wise’s ‘Director’s Edition’ of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The lighting itself can be intriguing and amazing, at times. Thin layers of fog and smoke add atmosphere in select scenes. The best looking visuals are mainly the scenes inside the space crafts, and the daytime sequences. Problems arise during the far darker scenes in the subterranean tunnels and the rain. At times, the lighting is so minimal and the framing so tight, it is difficult to follow the action. As the film goes on, the framing gets better as the creatures are better revealed, but never in full light. They essentially remain as silhouettes throughout the movie. This is much more akin to the original Alien – only showing glimpses of the monster. Still, the majority of the film is very dark, and whenever frenetic action begins, it can be a chore to keep track of it all. Maybe, a high-def presentation might lessen this problem marginally, but standard-def is my current situation.
One thing that I’m sure would be truly enhanced by a high-definition viewing is the excessive, yet welcomed gore levels. This absolutely goes back to John McTiernan’s 1987 film that introduced the merciless Predator. Bloodshed is everywhere, and people are killed indiscriminately. Only one person survives who you’d swear should be dead, but other than that, people are slain left and right. The film is very satisfying in that aspect because the filmmakers, aside from the just mentioned situation, don’t go out of their way to keep people alive in the face of certain death. If it looks like they’re gonna die, they die. No dodging hits at the last second or anything of the sort. Children die, pregnant mothers die, old guys get their arms acid burned off. There’s really no holding back, which can’t be said of its PG-13 predecessor. The makeup and visual effects are simply astounding. Some of the gore and creature moments are even down right grotesque and sick. The opening shot of Earth from space with the sun glaring in the background seems to have such an old school quality to it. It doesn’t appear to be so much of a digital composition. It really looks more like similar shots from Predator, Aliens, or even John Carpenter’s The Thing. There’s just such depth of detail to the shot, and impressive sense of scale that you rarely see nowadays. I was captivated by this shot. Subsequent CGI shots are also presented with such a standard. Nothing ever felt like a digital effects shot. It all blended smoothly and seamlessly with the live action. The movement of the Predator or Aliens never seems goofy, awkward, or over the top. It’s very much in line with the characters’ presentation from the seminal films of each, separate franchise. CGI versions of them are only used when it is necessary. Everything else is practical, physical effects.
Speaking of such things, AVP-R presents both alien races with a great deal of respect. The Predator, this time, is a definite seasoned warrior. He knows how the hunt is played, and takes on a good dozen Aliens on his own. The only one that really kicks his ass is the PredAlien. He’s not some punk rookie Predator in some training ground. It’s a real situation with him taking it upon himself to clean up this mess, and proves to be exceptionally capable. Though, this doesn’t mean the Aliens get busted up like a bunch of bitches. They hold their own, stalking and attacking with intelligence and ferocity. This is much like James Cameron’s Aliens. They work as both a cohesive whole and lethal individuals. They are indeed an infestation that continues to grow out of control, and is never made easy for the Predator. I really feel the filmmakers treated both sides with great respect. I love how we see the Predator work, even before he even begins the hunt. How he gathers his gear, and investigates the crash site. The film treats him like a proper character with a keen mind and cleverness, not a one-dimensional ugly beast rampaging through scenes. Just the level of intelligence both alien races are given says so much. Just as the Aliens set traps for others, the Predator shows he’s able to do the same. It’s a very pleasant surprise.
Now, I found the music to be appropriate to the film. I wouldn’t say it is exceptionally memorable, but it served the purposes of the movie. It is jarring, tense, and explosive. Thought did go into it, and you’ll notice the end credits theme is a mixture of the original Alan Silvestri Predator theme and the James Horner Aliens theme. It is titled ‘Requiem.’ I felt there was a good level of suspense in the film. Not a great deal, but in certain scenes, there is build up and tension towards a pay-off. I think the subterranean sequence is probably the best and most cleverly crafted one in the whole film. The fight choreography is inventive and imaginative. The staging of the cat-and-mouse hunting / stalking scenes are continually creative. It’s far more of what I would’ve wanted from the first film, and it is as an Aliens vs. Predator film should be. It’s quite fascinating as they are both the hunter and the hunted at the same time. Kill or be killed, it seems.
The acting certainly comes up as a negative on the reviews I’ve scanned over. Not every film can have the caliber of acting of a Scorcese or Coppola film. Like Francis Ford Coppola version of Dracula, sometimes you get Gary Oldman, and sometimes you get Keanu Reeves. The acting here falls within that deep gap. Essentially, it is solid enough to serve the purposes of the film, and I never felt that it turned ridiculous or annoying. You, honestly, don’t need Robert De Niro or Marlon Brando quality acting in an Aliens vs. Predator film. That’s not me discounting the wonderful performances we’ve had in the Alien & Predator films, but what are you really expecting from this film? The content and context of the film do not call for such glorious depth of acting ability. This is not to say that the acting here is crap. This is far above standards of something like Jason X or Freddy’s Dead. Those films feature a cringable lack of acting talent. What you get here is good, and allows you to enjoy the meat of the film. I didn’t feel like the film was dragged down by any of these characters, or their own, individual stories before the action begins. It helps the pace of the film to build up slowly as all elements begin to converge. I know Steven Pasquale from the cable television series Rescue Me, and John Ortiz I’m familiar with from the 2006 Miami Vice feature film. Both present characters with identifiable, relatable, and likable traits. They certainly show range to me, knowing those other roles they inhabited, and I found them to be worthwhile characters to spend my time with. These characters are quite human, but have a good deal more depth than your standard slasher film fodder. The filmmakers and screenwriters seemed to treat these new characters with respect. They easily could’ve gone with the fodder that Anderson’s AVP film offered, but chose to spend some decent time to develop their personalities on-screen.
The film’s ending needs to be addressed, and is certainly a borderline turn. It could either keep you hooked or lose you completely. The filmmakers could’ve really botched it up if they had everyone taken out, but there are survivors. So, that eases the tension. Still, there are elements that could be called cheesy or stupid. I, personally, don’t agree with that. You have to remember that while these are sequels to the Predator films, they are prequels to the Alien films. Events need to fall in line with that continuity to preserve certain knowledge of the Xenomorphs amongst humanity. Government cover-ups are necessary to serve that purpose, and the extra tag at the end was nice, if not somewhat predictable. Where in AVP, you met Weyland, this time, you meet Yutani – whose two corporations eventually form the infamous ‘Company’ from the Alien franchise. As I said, things of this nature could potentially lose an audience who perceive it as fanboy bullshit. They need to realize that this film was made because of fanboys (as much as I hate the term). Without them, these films would’ve died out a very long time ago. The ending might not be the most universally satisfying, but it is a logical and appropriate one. I could go further into depth about it, but suffice it to say, it helps to avoid continuity conflicts with the Alien films.
Colin & Greg Strause made a conscious effort to stay true to both franchises, and make this a real tribute to the fans. I think they succeed, to a point. It is a gorgeous film at times, and also a very grotesque feature, as well. It’s simply more technical elements of lighting, composition, and editing in certain scenes that lessen the effectiveness of those scenes. The film is terribly dark, visually, and the addition of a rain storm can complicate matters. It would’ve helped to cast some extra light on the battling alien beings to better distinguish them from each other. Still, at the most pivotal and impactful moments, the filmmakers allow for the shots to play out more dramatically. They hold on the shots longer, and the action therein is better defined. Beyond those shaky aspects, I feel this is a far superior film to 2004’s AVP. Everything is handled with a great deal more respect and weight. No ‘buddy cop’ Predator sidekick moments, no rookie Predators getting their butts kicked, and no skimping on the gore. While this doesn’t equal the caliber of Alien or Predator, it doesn’t fall very far below those standards. A classic this won’t be, but I feel it’s a worthy addition to your DVD or Blu Ray library.
This film was not what I had hoped it to be. At the time of release, I couldn’t have been more disappointed. However, over time, I have gained some appreciation for it, at least, for what it had the potential to be. I had not watched the television series during the 1980s. I grew up on cartoons, sitcoms, the WWF, and Knight Rider. However, I blind bought the first season of Miami Vice on DVD in 2005, and was immediately hooked. It seemed like good timing with news of the feature film hitting at that time, and the trailer coming a few months later.
What I love about the television show was its way of using popular music as a dramatic storytelling device, and the strong chemistry amongst the cast. The five seasons of Miami Vice redefined what could be achieved on television. Its use of cinematic visuals, gritty crime themes, and action packed, violent stories changed the medium forever. It was slick, colorful, exciting, dramatic, and compelling. Unfortunately, this 2006 feature film lacks all of that.
In this new Miami Vice, roles of James “Sonny” Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs are portrayed by Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, replacing Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas from the original series. Crockett & Tubbs get pulled away from a local undercover operation to deal with the deterioration of a interagency task force. As Tubbs says, “Your ‘op sec’ (operational security) is blown.” How it links to them is by way of an old informant who got in over his head, and now, pays a dire price. So, to bring down this Colombian crime kingpin, Jesus Montoya, Crockett & Tubbs go deep undercover where they have no back-up, and Crockett gets in close with Isabella (Gong Li), Montoya’s woman.
The real problem of this film is that it lacks chemistry and momentum. The plot moves along very straight forward allowing for no unexpected twists or turns to create exciting plot developments. The first 15-20 minutes of the film (theatrical cut) are wrought with potential for a very exciting, fast-paced feature. Things develop quickly creating urgency for everyone to act quickly, and for a dangerous premise to be setup with agents being gunned down. Action ensues, things blow up while maintaining a hard edged, realistic Michael Mann style. However, it soon slows to a dull pace. The plot moves from one thing to another just establishing elements and relationships and characters, but none of it really means anything. Nothing develops beyond the surface. It’s procedural to a fault. It’s more like watching a documentary of undercover vice cops than an engaging narrative with relatable characters.
In the television series, the clashing personalities of the slick, smooth New Yorker of Ricardo Tubbs and the weathered, cynical Miami Vice cop of Sonny Crockett created a classic chemistry. They didn’t always mesh well, but the chemistry Johnson & Thomas struck was what made the show work. They connected on an emotional level. You saw how these two went from reluctant partners to trusted brothers in arms. You felt it between them, and they played it well. Here, the script keeps the characters in an ‘all business’ mode for so long that you don’t get a moment where it’s just Crockett & Tubbs being themselves. There are little touches that are reflective of the original characters as I know them such as Crockett charming a female bartender at the start, or Tubbs offering his compassionate condolences to interagency commander Fujima, “Sorry about your men.” Regardless of that, you don’t get to know the men personally. It’s all on the surface because that’s what the script demands of them. There is only one such personal scene, but it comes so extremely late in the film, it does nothing to enhance the characters for the audience’s benefit. Also, Lieutenant Martin Castillo, who was one of the most fascinating and textured characters of the original series, portrayed amazingly well by the always fantastic Edward James Olmos, is now just another random character. Simply said, if you changed the names of all these characters, and slapped a different title on the film, you’d never know it was supposed to be Miami Vice.
The attempted romance between Sonny and Isabella just fell flat for me. Part of it is that Gong Li doesn’t speak English very well, and so, she has to spend more time just trying to pronounce the words instead of putting character and emotion behind them. You can see this relationship is having a conflicted effect on Sonny since he’s playing the undercover role of Sonny Burnett, a criminal and smuggler, and has to be close to her without actually being Sonny Crockett. He loves this woman, but as I said, the chemistry isn’t there. I felt no spark between them. No heat. Like so many things in this movie, it just doesn’t click.
The music is also dark and brooding. Aside from a few dance club scenes, the music is not lively. The music itself is not bad at all, I own the soundtrack, but it just further drags down the emotional weight of the film. I know the pop music of today is not like that of the 1980s, but this 2006 movie seems to make every effort to be in stark contrast to everything that defined the name Miami Vice. Thus, why I was so disappointed at the time of release. Michael Mann approached this film with the intention of realism. Make everything feel real, and do nothing that is not comparable to the true operations and people of this world. However, making it too realistic drains out the entertainment value, and the depth to the story being told. Because of this, as I said, the movie comes off more like a documentary.
On a positive note, the cinematography is mostly gorgeous. The shots over the open water as Sonny & Isabella speedboat to Havana are wondrous and sprawling. I live near Chicago, and so, the only large body of water I can enjoy is Lake Michigan. Still, staring out into that endless horizon, to the edge of the world is so perfectly tranquil, and that sense is captured here, exponentially. The film has a large amount of handheld work. A lot of it is handled well, but it can get to be too much. However, it’s nowhere near as bad as Mann’s next film Public Enemies. That was the perfect example of a badly shot movie. Collateral was amazing in every aspect to me, and I embraced the HD digital video look of it. It was shot fantastically. Miami Vice is the downward step between Collateral and Public Enemies in many ways, not just in camera work.
Characters in Michael Mann films went from deep, textured, and complex people to far more stoic people who Mann does not allow to show their depth. While Manhunter is my favorite Mann film, it is The Insider that I feel remains his best film to date. That was the clear definition of character depth, and a well written dramatic film. And Mann did it all without a single action sequence or gunshot. People conflicting with other people on an emotional, psychological, and ideological level. While based on true events, it shows that Mann can bring those qualities out in his films. Where it has gone in the last few years is beyond me.
Miami Vice was marketed as a slick, dangerous, edgy, sexy, and exciting summer action film. That is not the film Michael Mann made, and the film I got was not the one I expected to see on an August midnight showing in 2006. However, after listening to his director’s commentary, and allowing the passage of time, I at least have appreciation for the film it could have been. I understand what Mann was going for, and I love the ideas behind it. I just don’t feel it all successfully came together in this movie. The worst part of the film was the ending. As the movie progressed, I felt there hadn’t yet been a climax. There was a big shootout, but it felt like a precursor to the real climax. Nothing had yet been resolved on a plot development or emotional level. Jesus Montoya was still out there, at large, and I felt like the film would lead into Crockett & Tubbs going after him to shut him down. This was because the same thing happened in the episode “Calderone’s Return.” The villain from the pilot episode escaped, and now, Sonny & Rico had the chance to get him for good. They speedboat to the Bahamas for a final confrontation. None of that happened here. There’s a montage sequence, Crockett walks into the hospital, and the movie cuts to black. Roll credits. There was no resolution to any plot or character elements in the film. The bad guy gets away, he will rebuild his empire, and life goes on. All the Miami Vice squad achieved was killing a bunch of thugs with guns. Expendable, replaceable people in Montoya’s employ. You can pull that off on a television series because there’s always next week, sometimes next season to revisit the storyline, and tie it off at a later time (just like “Calderone’s Return”). In a feature film, you have only 90-120 minutes to establish, develop, and resolve a story. There was no satisfying resolution to Miami Vice 2006. Had there been, maybe I could forgive a lot of the negative marks by there being an exciting ending that actually resolved something that the audience decided to invest their time in.
The worst thing to do going into this movie is to anticipate anything resembling the 1980s television series. Going into it expecting a Michael Mann film might be more suitable, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be pleased. It’s been five years since this film was released, and while I have an appreciation for the ideas behind it, and enjoy much of the cinematography, I don’t view it as that good of a film. The lack of chemistry amongst the cast, momentum within the story, and the grim overall sense just doesn’t allow for much to invest in, unfortunately.