(Nimród Antal, 2010)
July 9, 2010
by Joel Crary
I must have seen the “Predators” trailer on television a hundred times this past week. It features one shot in particular that shows Adrien Brody being targeted by about 10 unique laser sights; the little tri-scope patterns light him up like a Christmas tree, and it looks like he’s really about to get it. Except this shot didn’t make it into “Predators.” Instead, he’s sized up with one measly little laser. Contrary to what the trailer suggests, and the indicative “S” on the end of the quite plural “Predators,” there are only about three or four of the 23-year-old baddies in the film’s final cut.
Think about that. The “Predator” franchise has been building for almost a quarter of a century. The first film, “Predator,” singular, was a terrific action picture that featured Arnold Schwarzenegger slogging around the jungle and kicking some otherworldly ass. Then the Arnie-less sequel came along, and then the predators started battling the monsters from the “Alien” franchise, and those films were PG-13 rated, i.e. way too shy on the blood, guts and cursing that such a film series should demand. And now here’s “Predators,” and do we really care that much anymore? The only reason a film like this gets made is to capitalize on the nostalgia factor, so it’s back to the jungle we go.
I’ll admit it’s a step in the right direction. A large part of what made the first film work was its setting. The jungle provided a chaotic landscape of the unknown into which ordinary supermen were thrust to battle something even unknownier. The predators weren’t just camouflaged like soldiers dropped into ‘Nam. They had cloaking devices that could make them outright disappear, and freaky heat-sensing equipment that allowed the audience to see things from their over-saturated point of view. The other part was the Thomas brothers’ efficient writing combined with modern action godfather John McTiernan’s directing. The predators were uncompromising, intelligent, bloodthirsty representations of the enemy Other: anti-human and thereby anti-American.
Of late, however, the series has dwindled into sci-fi geek fantasy scenarios of the “what if” variety, producing lackluster crossovers that have pretty well abandoned what made the predators compelling adversaries in the first place. It wasn’t their being monsters that made them horrific, but their being hunters, poised defiantly against the very best of human brutality. In “Predators,” eight castaways wake up mid-skydive into a predator-infested foreign land with no memory of how they got there. We’re back to the jungle, and back to man (and woman)-on-predator gratuitous violence in which the humans have to learn how to outmaneuver the alien life at every turn in order to survive.
This leads to a lot of scenes in which characters pontificate aloud on what the predators are doing, thinking, and feeling deep down inside their outer space warrior garb. Brody, a former black ops soldier, is particularly guilty of making assumptions about the beasts’ plans of divide and conquer. He should know, since he knows enough about tracking men himself that he’s taken the time to memorize a really impressive Hemingway quotation about his line of work. That’s the kind of inclusion co-writers Alex Litvak and Michael Finch probably Googled while putting the finishing touches on their script (Search: hunting +quote). But hell, I’ll take a well-placed Hemingway reference anytime, especially in a “Predator” flick.
The list of castaways includes a roll call of graduates from the school of badassery, including a mum member of the Yakuza (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a Sierra Leone death squad agent (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a death-sentenced criminal rapist and murderer (Walton Goggins), and so on. Since Robert Rodriguez served as one of the film’s producers, one of the mercenaries is played by living Halloween costume Danny Trejo, who is so underutilized it’s insulting. Topher Grace of all people shows up as a doctor, offering the particular brand of smart-ass comic relief he brings to pretty much every role he’s played. Laurence Fishburne also makes an appearance in what may be the year’s most manly reveal, and he clearly has fun playing crazy.
It’s not that this is a particularly bad cast, but Adrien Brody’s six pack isn’t fooling anybody. Arnie versus alien was a reliable formula because the smarts always came to Schwarzenegger at the last minute. The majority of the first “Predator” was about mountain men realizing they couldn’t beat the monster with brute force. In “Predators,” we’re given the world’s dullest think tank. They plow into the predators with round after round, ripping off “Aliens” all the while, and then spend 10 minutes philosophizing about how the monsters are “learning.” Then, invariably, someone else has gone missing.
The characters turn from bad to good and back again so often that any dimension they may sport is ground up and fed to the CGI mutant dogs. Things culminate to a final battle where it’s brutality that wins out. By then I was dizzied by the film’s bright flashes out of darkness and exhausted by its explanations of predator/super-predator strains and thinly concocted observations on battlefield morality. “Predators” takes itself way too seriously, to the point of tedium. Sure, it’s violent, and the F-words are back, but it’s been 23 years now. Let it go.