I think it goes without me saying that Predator is one of the best action films, ever. More importantly, this is my favorite Schwarzenegger movie. Smartly directed by John McTiernan, who would helm Die Hard the following year, this is an excellently plotted and cleverly devised concept utilizing a stellar cast to great effect. With an alien hunter designed by the masterful Stan Winston, and backed by some of the best visual effects of the time, Predator was an instant classic that truly solidified Schwarzenegger’s career as a blockbuster action star.
Recruited by the CIA to rescue hostages held by guerrilla fighters in a Central American country, Major Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his elite team encounter an enemy unimaginably more deadly than any on Earth – because the Predator is not of this Earth.
The film starts out wasting no time by keeping the exposition succinct, and allowing for this team to progress to their objective quickly while still relating these characters to us. No one’s explored in depth, but you get a clear, personality rich snapshot of each man. Blain’s a hard ass, Hawkins is kind of a joker, Billy’s the stoic warrior, and so on. The entire first act sets up who these guys are, and what they are capable of. We see this is an expertly efficient team able to wipe out a legion of about thirty Central American soldiers within a few minutes. They are tactically sound striking hard and fast using the element of surprise. When Dutch’s team is referred to as “the best” early on in the briefing scene, we see that is not at all an exaggerated statement. They prove they are the elite, but even then, you can see these guys are spooked by this jungle. “Makes Cambodia look like Kansas,” sets the tone for how unnerved they are by its terrain and ominous feeling. Encountering the previous team’s skinned corpses surely rattles them a bit, but they never lose their wits. In fact, it practically heightens them for the more lethal danger that is stalking them.
Schwarzenegger shines here as Dutch. In addition to everyone else, this is possibly his most quotable movie. Arnold’s got that charisma going here with energy and authority. I love that Dutch is a soldier with a code of ethics for his men. He states straight out that his men are not assassins, merely an elite rescue team, and we see that conviction arise when he learns of Dillion’s deception. Schwarzenegger shows Dutch to be an honorable and sharply intelligent soldier commanding his men with precision. He proves himself to be a cunning warrior gradually picking up on the Predator’s methods, and adapting to them in order to survive. He’s perceptive and level headed, which is undoubtedly the sign of a great soldier. I think this definitely one of Schwarzenegger’s finest performances demonstrating the ability to realize a very authentic, dimensional, and smart character. Not to mention, I don’t think he’s looked so awesome on-screen without delving into a cheesy or campy tone.
Bill Duke especially does a touchingly effective job. Early on, he is a hardened soldier, but after Blain is lost, you see the grief and turmoil wash over him. Carl Weathers is great here as well portraying a man who was once a trusted friend of Dutch’s that has been corrupted by the “everyone’s expendable” mentality of a pencil pushing desk jockey. He’s lost sight of the qualities of a soldier and the value of life. However, we see him turning the corner as he rushes into his final battle, and I really like seeing that small character arc. Overall, this is a rock solid cast flexing both their acting muscles and their real ones in pure 80’s action movie bad assery. They all exhibit distinct personality that are vibrant, memorable, and straight up killer.
What it is that we lose with CGI monsters as opposed to a real life performer is exquisitely evident here. Kevin Peter Hall inhabited that beautifully textured and crafted Stan Winston suit, and created a character to live and breathe through it. Compare it to the personality deprived CGI creatures from Cowboys & Aliens. They were, as I said in that review, “just creatures designed to fill up the plot, and serve as a physical enemy to combat.” They had no distinct characteristics that made them any better than the Imperial Stormtroopers in Star Wars. The Predator has nuanced qualities that reflect an intelligence and cunning behavior. He’s a unique individual amongst a unique race. How he moves, reacts, and assesses a situation bring a subtle and intriguing depth created by Kevin Peter Hall’s amazing performance. It has all the traits of a talented performer crafting a character, and I am so tremendously glad that this franchise has never abandoned the performer in the suit approach.
As I’ve said in many previous reviews, the work of Stan Winston is legendary, and stands the test of time. He clearly revolutionized the creature effects industry with his artistic craftsmanship and captivating imagination. The Predator is an astonishing creation in all facets. The original creature the filmmakers put together for this film was ridiculous and was quickly jettisoned after only a few days of filming. Winston was called in, and with a little input about mandibles from James Cameron, this iconic, ferocious, and frightening creature was born. Beyond that, this is a very graphic and brutal film showing you skinned human bodies, spinal cords ripped from carcasses, and a disemboweled Jesse Ventura. Everything feels so grisly and textured for a greatly realistic feeling. This is some of the best gore effects I’ve ever seen.
And these visual effects essentially still hold up to this day. Certainly, the sequels have shown how digital effects can be used to improve and enhance them, but this is impressive work that hardly feels dated. This is mainly between the Predator’s cloaking technology where he appears as transparent ripples, and the laser sighting and discharges from his plasma cannon. There are some especially impressive shots featuring the cloak with more dynamic camera angles and motion where you get the real three dimensional quality of it. You see it’s not some animated effect, but a real optical composite of a real performer. These are all excellent visual effects.
This all blends perfectly with the gritty, sometimes smoky atmosphere of the film’s look. I think John McTiernan’s great eye for composition, interesting angles, and well constructed action shines through. In this jungle, we get the feel of the dangerous terrain and mysterious qualities of the dense foliage. The grit grounds this science fiction premise in a visceral reality where consequences are severely violent and lethal. Great camera movements and stylish, dramatic imagery highlight the artist merit of the cinematography, and it is all expertly edited together for a tight film which propels itself forward from the get go. .
Alan Silvestri put together one amazing score for Predator that has endured for the whole franchise. He incredibly blends a militaristic march and drive with a primal tribal, jungle beat. He builds a sense of ominous foreboding reflecting the reality that there is something out there stalking these men. For the majority of the climax, there is next to no dialogue of any sort. It is carried along by the action, the visuals, and the exhilarating score which enhances all of the tension, apprehension, and danger that is unfolding. It is perfect, superb work.
The action hits you at a regular clip, and the first main sequence is majorly explosive. It sets the bar high for the remaining runtime, and McTiernan is able to meet that challenge. It’s the mix of tension, the unknown, and the sheer scale of this rapid fire, big gun toting, grenade launching explosiveness that makes that possible. Yet, McTiernan knows how to build it up, and work the subtle strings of an audience’s anticipation. The danger escalates, and the peril becomes more immediate as the Predator moves in closer and closer to its prey. He starts out attacking from a distance, but gradually engages his ultimate trophy – Dutch – in close combat because the Predator views him as a highly worthy adversary
And that entire third act where it’s just down to Dutch and the Predator is a masterpiece. The strategy and makeshift tactics that Dutch puts together play out brilliantly. He uses the Predator’s own method of invisibility and striking from a distance to his advantage. However, it all elevates when the two finally meet face-to-face in a straight physical confrontation. Everyone knows that Arnold is a BIG guy, but next to this hulking seven foot tall alien beast, he looks small and nearly ineffectual. It’s only by his smarts and wits is he able to survive.
Predator is filled with chest pounding action and excitement wrapped in a smart concept and script. Backed up by an excellent action director, and a vibrant, colorful cast lead by Arnold Schwarzenegger, it was a surefire formula for success. This is why I love Predator. It never lags anywhere as the pacing is tight and the rhythm is consistent throughout right from the start. It’s really a near brilliant structure which constantly keeps you invested and intrigued by what’s developing here. You also can’t not quote the living hell out of this movie. It’s sharp, witty, but never betraying the serious tone of danger and lethality it sets from the beginning. It’s an absolute success that holds up incredibly well over time. I entirely intend to give you reviews on both Predator 2 and Predators sooner than later. Until then, revisit this classic.
I must give you fair warning. A careless Facebook commenter ruined a major plot twist of this film for me before I saw the film. I was very upset by that, and it did indeed affect my experience with the film. This is why I write spoiler-free reviews of newly released movies. Regardless of that, while I did find Iron Man 3 entertaining and mostly enjoyable, I have some strong stinging points to raise against it. I do not feel it is the best of them all. In all actuality, I still prefer both of the previous films over this one. That is sad because this had the potential to be really great, but it has at least one major failing, among others, that I will avoid spoiling for you.
Brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) goes against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds. When Stark finds his personal world destroyed at his enemy’s hands, he embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible. This journey, at every turn, will test his mettle. With his back against the wall, Stark is left to survive by his own devices, relying on his ingenuity and instincts to protect those closest to him. As he fights his way back, Stark discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?
Let’s start out with what I liked about the movie. It does a lot of fresh, inventive things with the suits. Tony being able to call upon the Mark 42 at will with some injected sensors was excellent, and many of the suiting up sequences stemming from that were fantastic. There’s even one action scene where Tony is fighting to escape captivity, and he only has one gauntlet and one leg of the suit to work with. He has to be more clever and dynamic with just these two parts to combat his enemies. I really liked that, and there’s even more awesomeness in the climax, which I’ll get to later. For most of the film, he’s stuck with this not entirely functional prototype that continually gets beaten up, requiring Tony to cobble together various resources to survive and battle his foes.
Of course, Downey still does a great job with the character. He’s lost nothing after his previous three outings, including The Avengers. There’s very good material here for him to work with that shades Tony’s story a little darker than before. He has some demons to resolve, and Downey does a fine job working with that. However, as good as Downey is, the script has its shortcomings with that material. There is the fact that Tony is struggling with these anxiety attacks, this sort of post-traumatic stress, but as the same as my gripe with Skyfall, we never see the character actually resolve this problem. It’s there and then it’s not there. This paralyzing fear that keeps striking Tony simply evaporates from his being with no resolution at all. In Iron Man 2, Tony went through an arc where he dealt with his issues, made a mends, and rediscovered his purpose and ambition. None of that effort exists within this movie. Downey handles Shane Black’s comedic writing greatly, but this is a film that could have benefitted greatly from less humor and a lot more dramatic turmoil and peril.
It is pleasing that we get a little more Don Cheadle here as Colonel Rhodes, but I still feel the character should be a lot more fleshed out by this point. Granted, this film puts him more into the thick of the action, both in and out of the suit, but I want to feel like Rhodey is more than just a supporting character. You’ve got an excellent actor here, and I don’t think he’s been used to a tenth of his potential, yet. The one thing I do like is how Tony kind of speaks for the audience in that rebranding War Machine into Iron Patriot doesn’t sound like a good idea. War Machine is who Rhodey has been in the comics, not Iron Patriot, and besides that, War Machine sounds like a guy you just do not want to mess with at all. That’s a bad ass name. Iron Patriot, not so much.
Now, Ty Simpkins portrays a young boy named Harley that Tony crosses paths with while trying to untangle the mystery of the Mandarin and the bombings he’s been behind. Simpkins does a stellar job trading sharp, witty dialogue beautifully with Downey. The two work wonderfully together, and I really did like and enjoy Harley. He was a great companion for Tony to have for a while that helped him along the way, and remained endearing and smart. He also gets a great pay-off at the end that was charming.
I am a big believer in the talent of Guy Pearce. I think he is an immensely talented actor that should have broken into the big time a good decade ago. His Aldrich Killian is the controller of this Extremis technology which creates nearly indestructible human weapons allowing them to regenerate body parts and repair fatal injuries almost instantly. Yet, the tech is not entirely stable resulting in some volatile reactions. Pearce makes Killian rather compelling with his charisma, air of sophistication and culture, and definitely with his underlying merciless villainy. I did find him to be an effective villain, but not a great one. Pearce certainly sells every bit of the character’s ruthless savvy and sociopathic relentlessness with just the right degree of arrogance and intelligence. In the climax, he definitely becomes a wicked bad ass that is not easy to take down. So while he’s not a villain that jumped out and stuck in my mind greatly, Killian is still a damn good one in the hands of Guy Pearce.
Now, the first thing I didn’t really care for was the Tony Stark narration at the beginning. Some months ago, I tried to watch Shane Black’s other directorial effort with Robert Downey, Jr. – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was the incessant narration that turned me off to that film as well. It made the film too self-aware in a bad way, and I just couldn’t even get twenty minutes into it. The narration is not incessant here, but it just didn’t establish an inviting tone for me. It just felt like Tony was breaking the fourth wall on me, and I didn’t like that feeling. Ultimately, it really only ties into the comedic post-end credits scene, which was funny but really frivolous. That was yet another thing that was spoiled to me going into it. This is sort of a movie experience that makes me realize there’s just too much information, preview clips, trailers, and TV spots spoiling important aspects of movies today. That’s why I’m glad for the marketing of Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel – they have given us fantastic glimpses of the films while spoiling nothing crucial. I’m excited for both films while still going into them knowing very little about the plot and layout of the films. Iron Man 3 just spewed out every little piece of footage and information people could get their hands on, and it terribly impacted my experience seeing this film. I’d expect a big, marketing savvy studio like Disney or Marvel to be more strategic in what they release, but apparently, that was a false perception on my part. It felt like I had watched this movie in sections on television, and was only now watching it in full for the first time. Of course, careless commenters on Facebook are beyond their control.
Now, while Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian is an excellent character and villain here, showcasing much of Pearce’s wonderful talent and charisma, the issue I have is hotly focused on the handling of the Mandarin. Again, I will spoil nothing about the plot twist that goes into either of these characters, but simply said, the Mandarin is horribly, insultingly wasted. In the comics, he is Iron Man’s archenemy, and this film had such a powerful, masterful setup for this revamp of this villain. Instead, they chose to piss all over that potential and flush it down the toilet. If I didn’t have this essentially spoiled for me in advance, I think I would have been pissed sitting in that theatre. Almost as pissed off as I was at the end of The Dark Knight Rises because it is just stupidity at its finest handled in the most asinine way. I have no passionate connection to the Iron Man mythos, but I do know a bad idea on screen when I see it. You have this amazing actor in Ben Kingsley portraying this menacing, threatening, foreboding, and brutal character, and you make a complete and utter insulting waste of his talent with this horrendous plot twist. Frankly, the Mandarin could have elevated this film to an astonishing height with his reign of terror, but instead, it came crashing down because of what Shane Black did with him. In the comics, the Mandarin is a genius scientist and martial artist utilizing ten power rings adapted from alien technology as his primary source of power. Shifting that to a more grounded straight up terrorist with advanced technological bio-weaponry was working immensely well in the film until it was all dashed. The fact that Tony Stark was abducted by the Ten Rings in the first film created a closed loop of storytelling here that could have worked beautifully, but we are denied any ingenuity or brilliance here. The Mandarin is reduced to a punchline that I found no humor in at all. It is the biggest black mark on this film because it presented to us with amazing, potentially stunning potential, and turned it into a bad joke.
The other thing I really didn’t like was how much this film forced itself into feeling like the final act of a trilogy. I am so sick and tired of everyone’s obsession with trilogies these days. What happened to just telling a solid, independent story? Why MUST everything be conceived as a trilogy? Shane Black drops in so much stuff, especially at the end, making it feel like Marvel is closing the book on Iron Man. That’s surely not the case, but does this film ever feel like the final act of a movie trilogy. I really don’t get what the problem is with just making another sequel that allows for an ongoing series. There’s no reason this film had to be written as if it’s some final chapter for Tony Stark when Marvel is likely, in no way, considering that. I almost guarantee you we will see Tony Stark as Iron Man in The Avengers 2, but the way this film ends, you’d think otherwise. It’s such a blatant message that really annoys the crap out of me. The Mandarin issue is indeed worse, but this further burned me as the film came to an end.
And lastly, I felt the film indulged in too much humor. I really miss the sharp, punchy comedic timing that came with Jon Favreau’s direction. He rarely ever lingered on a joke or gag. He kept it tight and to the point. Shane Black drags too many bits out for too long. The joke plays itself out, but the film keeps running with it. There’s also frivolous gags like how Happy Hogan is dressed up like Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction in the flashback to 1999 (five years after that movie came out). There’s no reason for that. It’s just there as a gag that no one in my theatre even picked up on to laugh at. Probably because you could barely tell it was supposed to be Jon Favreau in that ridiculous getup. Most importantly, I feel the humor outweighs the drama of the story. There’s an over abundance of it with the dramatic turmoil going on is brushed aside. Almost no scene goes by without some kind of witty, funny banter between characters, and that really weakens the dramatic weight that Black attempted to inject into this film. The previous two Iron Man films knew when you shift tones and focus on the emotional or dramatic poignancy of the story. This film barely does that at all.
There is also the inevitable thought that’s going to come into the minds of a lot of people. With this terrorist threat imposing itself upon America, where are the other heroes? I mean, you’d at least expect Captain America to be called upon to combat an enemy to the American people. Even Iron Patriot doesn’t get called in until almost the last minute. At least with Thor, he’s off traveling to different worlds and realms, and the Hulk is too potentially unstable to call in on a whim. Yet, Stark shouldn’t have much hesitation in doing so considering the Hulk saved his life, and he and Banner are now close buddies. Still, even S.H.I.E.L.D. is apparently not even involved. At least in the comics, you have dozens of storylines running concurrently with all of these books being published showing what’s occupying these heroes at all times. You don’t have that luxury here. Marvel Studios is going to have to craft these films extremely carefully to explain away these issues. You can’t have a shared universe with stories that take place in a vacuum.
Now, Iron Man 3 does contain the best climax of the series, so far. The all-out assault on Killian and his Extremis soldiers was killer! The entire army of Iron Man suits greatly ties into Tony having had too much time on his hands from all his sleepless nights. Him jumping in and out of various suits throughout this sequence to escape various scenarios was an exciting, brilliant idea. It has a lot of peril and awesome action that blends together in masterful fashion. It all taking place at this shipyard with cranes and scaffolding really allowed for great dynamics to have the Jarvis-automated suits flying around attacking and being attacked. How Tony tries to jump into certain suits, only to have them blown away, or only get part of a suit added to the unpredictability and danger of it all. The battle between Tony and Killian was fantastic and bad ass. I really loved it all the way through. And while I loved the quirkiness of what Tony does after the fight with the suits, the connotation it left me with was not to my liking. Again, it’s part of that forced trilogy style close-endedness which seemed ridiculous and stupidly unnecessary.
The main problem here is that Shane Black seemed intent on making this an entertaining, humorous film with a backdrop of drama and consequence, but ultimately, did not give most of those dramatic aspects their just due. The only time he does allow any dramatic resolution is in trying to tie off all character threads at the end like it was a conclusion to a trilogy. Black also sacrifices coherent, intelligent, and solid storytelling for a few extended gags. I mean, if you’re not going to do the Mandarin justice, don’t bother putting him in the film at all. Also, don’t bother having that PTSD aspect part of Tony’s character if you’re not actually going to have him go through the process of dealing with and overcoming it. While Iron Man 2 was an over-bloated film with too many plot threads and a story that veered off track, I can still enjoy it because it at least did nothing to raise my ire. It’s a lightly enjoyable mess. This film has enough abrasive stinging points for me to say I don’t really like it. There are things in it I do like and found a lot of enjoyment from, but as a whole, those miscues and bad ideas sour me to it. After I found The Avengers to be a largely entertaining, yet hollow movie with a paper thin plot and stock villains, I had hopes that the individual sequels would be better developed and more substantive, like what had come before. While Iron Man 3 has substance, this was not at all the right script to sign off on. I’ve loved a lot of Shane Black’s work from Lethal Weapon to The Monster Squad to The Last Boy Scout, but this is clearly where Marvel Studios should have exercised more creative control, in my opinion. Maybe you won’t find these issues so objectionable upon your viewing of the film, but for me, they really drive me away from wanting to see it again. There is a lot of entertainment value to be had, but this film, for me, features more than just a few stumbling blocks. It has some rocky pot holes in its road.