For whatever reason, the Predator film franchise lied dormant after the release of Predator 2 in 1990. It wasn’t until 2004 that we got the highly anticipated Alien vs. Predator films. The first one I hated, and I still consider it the worst overall movie I’ve ever seen theatrically. The second film I did a rather positive review of as one of the last Forever Horror website reviews and one of the first Forever Cinematic reviews. However, the general consensus of both movies was decidedly negative, and thus, someone thought it was time to bring the Predator franchise back into its own. Such a person was producer Robert Rodriguez known best for making big scale action on tight budgets. Thus, twenty years after Predator 2, we are given another proper sequel. The question is, was it good enough to breathe life into a damaged franchise?
Awakening in freefall, a collection of strangers find themselves dropped into an unfamiliar land with danger awaiting them. Royce (Adrien Brody) is a mercenary who reluctantly leads this group of elite warriors in a mysterious mission on an alien planet. Except for a disgraced physician, they are all cold-blooded killers – mercenaries, mobsters, convicts and death squad members – human “predators.” But when they begin to be systematically hunted and eliminated by a new Predator breed, it becomes clear that suddenly, they are the prey!
I will admit that I wasn’t sold on this film pre-release. I thought the premise of Predators abducting humans from Earth and dropping them on another planet to be hunted was against the idea of what a big game hunter would do. You don’t take a lion out of his natural environment and throw him in your backyard to hunt him. However, a positive reaction from a strongly opinionated friend of mine motivated me to see it theatrically. Indeed, I really liked Predators. I would still rank it third in my list of favorites, but all three films are ranked very tightly together. They are all extremely well made with their own unique ideas, visual styles, and approaches which all work superbly.
Much like with Predator 2, you must find it peculiar to cast Adrien Brody as the lead in an action movie. This film will entirely change your perspective on that. He delivers incredibly in this role. Brody can play tough bad ass with the best of them. He brings the charisma of a leader, but clearly shows Royce is a man of sketchy origins and doesn’t mind being a loner. Royce is also very smart and perceptive. He would be fine going at it solo, but he sees that even his own survival holds better odds sticking with them than without. You also see that he’s not a cold-blooded man, but he can be a savage, hardened killer when he needs to be. The film’s climax sells every awesome thing about Royce, and solidifies that I want to see more of him.
Brody has very touching and honest chemistry with Alice Braga, portraying the Israeli sniper Isabelle. They surely butt heads in certain circumstances, but they connect on an emotional level that does resonate. They build a mutual trust and respect as the film progresses. The rest of these trained killers, including the Rodriguez obligatory Danny Trejo, certainly don’t measure up to Dutch’s elite team from the first film, but they are a mismatched group that are weary to trust one another. My favorite, who has extremely little dialogue, is the Yakuza member Hanzo. He creates a very intriguing mystique around him through some interesting actions, and demonstrates a unique sense of honor. Topher Grace portrays the aforementioned disgraced physician Edwin, and surely, the film didn’t require the presence of this character. He just adds an extra wild card element late in the game which may or may not be easy to spot early on. I think I had this reveal spoiled for me before I initially saw the movie. The concept behind Edwin is a clever one, but probably not executed nearly as smartly as it could have been.
Laurence Fishburne makes a wickedly cool appearance as Noland, a soldier whose been trapped and has survived this planet for several years. The result of that is hat Noland’s gone quite crazy in a delusional, psychotic type of way. He’s more than skillfully dangerous, he’s psychologically dangerous. Fishburne is entertaining and awesome in this fairly brief, very off-kilter role. More than anything, this character is designed to sell the futility of an escape from the planet, and the idea of two rival tribes of Predators hunting out there, making it all the more difficult to survive.
The film’s first act of sorts might seem a little drawn out to some. I believe I felt that way upon first viewing. The characters are exploring this world, trying to understand where they are, and even the first action sequence is not until more than twenty-five minutes in. Strange alien animals are throw at these characters as a test first, and so, there is a prolonged wait before the first Predator is actually revealed. However, once that occurs, the film settles into a very familiar feel and tone. Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal studied the first Predator in great detail to nail the vibe perfectly, and I think they got it just about dead-on while still adding to it. Antal focuses on building the atmosphere and tension so that there is a pay-off with the action.
The overall feel is great with some rich color schemes which still evoke a dark, ominous feeling. The cinematography gives this film scale and scope while still maintaining the isolated feeling. The night scenes look great with a more subdued color palette, but with an excellent use of light and shadow for a beautiful moody vibe. This really is a remarkably well shot movie with an abundance of artistic merit and dramatic visual weight.
The way the action plays out is very intelligent focusing on tension and imminent danger. There’s plenty of intense gunplay, but it’s definitely used in conjunction with smart tactics and strategies by these characters. The ominous feeling of being stalked and hunted is executed with great skill. It’s a whole package of the visual style, stellar editing, and a music score that stays true to Alan Silvestri’s work. This film definitely takes the filmmaking style and techniques from John McTiernan’s movie, and gives it a little more polish. Nimrod Antal definitely puts his own stamp on the film, but was able to make this feel cohesive with the rest of the main Predator franchise. The action scenes definitely reflect this as there’s really none of that modern shaky cam mayhem. It’s well plotted, shot, and cut together for an extremely coherent and effective experience. Beyond anything else, this film enhances the ferocity and frightening quality of the Predators. They feel even more merciless and relentless than before, if you could even imagine such a thing.
I can’t help but love two fight scenes in Predators. The first has Hanzo squaring off with his katana against the Predator. This is beautifully setup, and is shot so gorgeously with a lot of wide angles and a wonderful overhead shot showing the wind blowing through the high grass. It’s a graceful work of art. What trumps it on the bad assery scale is when the New Predator battles the Classic Predator, which is portrayed by Derek Mears. While I didn’t care for the remake of Friday The 13th, Mears was an awesome Jason Voorhees, and he makes for an awesome Predator. Two Predators ripping and tearing at one another is pure gold, and the scene doesn’t disappoint at all. This is savage, gory, and everything you’d hope it to be.
And indeed, the creature effects are excellent. Oddly, neither Stan Winston Studios or Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. – who were responsible for all of the previous Predator effects – returned to work on this film. Instead, the impeccable talents of KNB EFX were tapped, and they delivered on an amazing level. There are some familiar designs with the Classic Predator, but the newer, larger Predators are even more impressive. They do feel like a different breed, but are given a much better approach than what we saw in Alien vs. Predator. And of course, the gore returns in abundance, and no one better to also fill that task than KNB EFX. They’ve been the standard bearers for physical effects, especially those in the horror genre, for the last twenty years, and that quality is vastly on display here.
Predators does a great job of taking cues from the first movie, and adding its own flavor and ideas to them. The climax is a great example as Royce uses some of the same tactics as Dutch with the mud, but uses it in a different context. Instead of giving the Predator nothing to lock on to, he overloads the senses, and takes him on full boar while retreading some of Arnold’s quotable dialogue. It all really works greatly while delivering the graphic violence quota that fans crave from this franchise. The film ends on an excellent note that left me wanting to see where yet another sequel could go.
And thus, I do believe that Predators was indeed good enough to potentially breathe life back into this franchise. Everyone involved steered it back in the right direction where exciting new stories could be told, and even on its own, this is a very solid and satisfying science fiction action movie. However, with the same budget as Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, it pulled in just about the same amount at the box office, but the reviews and reactions to this film were substantially higher. Predators set a good foundation for the franchise to build upon, but three years later, no news of a sequel has surfaced from Twentieth Century Fox. That is quite unfortunate, but I think there is a great deal of potential to tap with this series which is evident here. Nimrod Antal and Robert Rodriguez did an excellent job bringing everything back to its roots, and while they chose not to acknowledge Predator 2, they did nothing to contradict it either. Again, I’d love to see more of Adrien Brody as Royce. He’s flat out awesome. While I’m sure some will view the film as leaning a little too heavily on the first movie, I really believe that what it takes from that movie was largely to its benefit, and the filmmakers still injected their own ideas and creativity to allow the franchise to move forward. They expanded the universe and possibilities in a lot of very good and intriguing ways. I do really like Predators, and I give it a strong recommendation. If this film has slipped under your radar for the last three years, definitely give it your attention. This is a franchise that deserves to live and thrive again under the watch of some really sharp and talented creative individuals.