Robert Rodriguez returns the Predator to the silver screen in this reboot of the sci-fi/horror franchise. Is it better than many say?
Similar to Sylvester Stallone’s glorious resurrection of the Rambo franchise, 2010’s Predators is a sequel that eschews post-modernist filmmaking in favour of a back-to-basics, 80s-style approach. As a result, this Robert Rodriguez-produced exhumation of the Predator series is a solid, highly satisfying action picture and a worthy sequel to 1987’s Predator (certainly, it’s far better than the weak – though liked by some – Predator 2 and the even weaker Alien vs. Predator movies). Chief among the strengths of Predators is that it returns the franchise to its natural habitat, with the film observing an anxious group within a jungle setting who gradually come to grips with the alien hunters stalking the area. Predators is also afforded a unique spin: the titular monsters are not only stalking humans, but aliens from other planets as well.
As the film opens, in a presumed spin on Cube, we are cleverly placed in the same bewildered mindset as the eight humans who wake up to find themselves falling through the sky equipped with a parachute. This is without an explanation as to what’s going on. A tentative leader emerges in the form of Royce (Adrien Brody), who’s surrounded by a group of soldiers and criminals from around the world. This includes a sniper (Alice Braga), a Russian (Oleg Taktarov), a civilian doctor (Topher Grace), a member of the Yakuza (Louie Ozawa Changchien), a Mexican (Danny Trejo) and a condemned murderer (Walton Goggins). Studying their surroundings, Royce surmises that the team has been dropped on a game reserve planet and are intended as targets for a mysterious pack of alien creatures who hunt for sport. As the group navigate through treacherous terrain they deal with trust and leadership issues, and Royce struggles to search for a way to defeat the unseen foes and a way to escape the deadly planet.
The straightforward narrative unfolds at a steadfast pace, with no location or scene outstaying their welcome. Predators excels particularly because of the decision to create it as a horror/thriller first and an action picture second, much like the original Predator (and unlike the follow-ups). Hence, the film is not in a hurry to introduce a Predator-centric action scene – instead, a decent amount of time is spent developing the brutes; observing them as they apprehensively bond and search for a way to gain the upper hand. Clearly, Rodriguez and his co-writers (Michael Finch and Alex Litvak) understood that less is more, as the lack of Predator appearances throughout the film’s first half is essential for building requisite tension. Unfortunately, there is a lack of machismo and tough guy one-liners (the original Predator contained legendary one-liners), and the pacing is not taut enough. Additionally, Predators falls prey to an aggressive dosage of formula once the third act kicks in; leading to an array of cringe-worthy moments that significantly impact the experience (including a betrayal that’s poorly-motivated and inadequately explained). And what of the new Predator designs, I hear you think? It’s hard to distinguish the Berserkers from the Classics, to be honest.
Working from Finch and Litvak’s screenplay, director Nimród Antal (Vacancy, Armoured) was clearly knowledgeable about how to stage an action set-piece. At times the use of shaky-cam and rapid-fire editing is distracting, but for the most part the action is extremely well-handled. Antal was also not overpowered by Rodriguez, whose approach to action filmmaking is very different to what you’ll see in Predators. Thankfully, the Predators themselves were brought to life using old-fashioned rubber body suits and practical creature effects whenever possible. CGI is used sparingly, and only when needed (luckily, all the gore appears to be practical). In addition, there’s a brilliant expansion of the Predator mythology, as one character explains that the creatures hunt for sport in order to learn and improve their tactics. This begs the question (which could be addressed in further instalments): why are the Predators attempting to emerge as a superior race? Are they planning an invasion of another planet? It’s also worth noting that the original Predator is paid homage to through music cues (it feels as if Alan Silvestri’s original score was entirely re-used here) and a few set-pieces (most notably the final showdown). Shit, the events of the original film are discussed as well, and the end credits even feature Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally,” a song from the legendary helicopter scene in the original.
Good acting is a rarity in the realm of action cinema, but Predators actually benefits from strong performances across the board. While the actors lack the sheer manliness and testosterone of the original Predator cast, every actor is nonetheless credible in their respective roles. Brody imbued his role of Royce with menace and intensity, and the actor clearly spent a lot of hours in the gym to gain muscle for the role. Against all odds, the Oscar-winning performer is an excellent action hero. The only drawback is that Brody lacks the memorable presence of Arnie. Perhaps a larger, bulkier actor could have done this role more justice (maybe they should’ve waited for Schwarzenegger to finish his term as Governor, and hired him for the protagonist or a cameo). Alongside Brody is an array of strong performers, such as Trejo, Grace and Taktarov, all of whom hit their marks. Braga is strong as the sniper Isabelle, whist Laurence Fishburne also pops up briefly with a memorable cameo that recalls Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now.
Fans of the original Predator should find 2010’s Predators to be more than satisfying after the bad taste left by other instalments. Rodriguez, Antal and the writers knew what made the original film such a great ride and worked to reproduce a similar brand of visceral thrills. Let’s be honest – you want to see a Predator movie for bone-crunching battles and violence, and Predators delivers a satisfying amount of these ingredients. Despite a number of flaws, this is solid summertime entertainment.
- The film’s basic plot was conceived in 1994, when Rodriguez was working on Desperado (1995). He presented a draft of the script to 20th Century Fox, but they turned it down because the budget required was too large. Fifteen years later, the studio decided to follow through with his script; in the end, an updated version of his script.
- According to Antal and Rodriguez on the commentary, in the script, the character Cuchillo was described as “a guy who looks like Danny Trejo.” When Danny Trejo heard this, he called Rodriguez and said, “hey, I heard there’s a guy in the script for Predators who looks just like Danny Trejo and guess what, I look just like Danny Trejo!”
- The original script contained cameo appearances by Dutch (Schwarzenegger) and Michael Harrigan (Danny Glover), the protagonists of the previous Predator films. However, these appearances were ultimately cut out.
- Fishburne filmed for just two days.