ALIEN VS. PREDATOR: I Think This is a Manhood Ritual

Alien vs. Predator (2004; Extended Cut) – Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson – Starring Sanaa Lathan, Lance Henriksen, Raoul Bova, Ewen Bremner, and Colin Salmon.

Earlier, I wrote over 2,000 words on ALIEN RESURRECTION, and could have written 1,000 more. Right now, I’m going to struggle to write 1,000 on ALIEN VS. PREDATOR.

Jumping way back into the franchise’s past to plop down in our contemporary period, AVP tells the story of an expedition into an underground pyramid. The expedition finds themselves caught between aliens and Predators, who run around the pyramid killing each other as part of a Predator manhood ritual. Predators kill humans. Aliens kill humans. Predators kill aliens. Aliens kill Predators. Predators win. Spaceship arrives. Aliens get final revenge. Hybrid baby is born.

AVP is certainly not a bad movie. In fact, almost stubbornly it’s an enjoyable enough popcorn movie if-

Right. There’s this. The first time I watched AVP I was at a friend’s house. I’d bought the movie just for the occasion, and being a fan of the ALIEN and PREDATOR franchises, I was ready for some popcorn goodness. (Although, we were actually eating brats and not popcorn, so I suppose technically I was ready for some bratwurst goodness.)

When I arrived, I was moderately pleased that a non-ALIEN, non-PREDATOR person had arrived because she was kinda hot. Unfortunately, she was also in the mood to shred everything about this film, so I spent much of the night happily checking out her legs and unhappily listening to her yap on excessively and loudly about the movie’s stupidity. I was both turned on and off, but by the time an alien and Predator faced off, I just wanted to watch the movie without her, or hang with her without the movie.

Anyway, AVP is an enjoyable enough popcorn movie if you’re into aliens and Predators. Or Sanaa Lathan. And since I’m into all three there’s plenty here to keep me interested, even if I’m never all that engaged.

As AVP opens, my initial thoughts were that this movie was rather tedious to watch. Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henrikson) of the Weyland Corporation (this is their pre-Yutani days) notices an odd heat signature beneath the Antarctic ice, so he assembles a team of experts from around the globe to go investigating with him. Most of the people he brings in are nameless men and women in large winter coats, but there are a few prominent members of the squad: guide Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), archaeologist Sebastian De Rosa (Raoul Bova), and … well, that’s it, really. Everyone else is basically, “Nervous Guy with Two Kids,” “Super Cool Assistant,” “Predator Fodder #3,” and “Alien Fodder #6.”

The expedition arrives at an abandoned whaling station that sits on top of the buried pyramid, where they discover a perfectly carved tunnel has been bored overnight. It can’t happen, yet there it is, so they do the only smart thing and go down into tunnel to investigate the pyramid. What hurts AVP through this point is that Alexa doesn’t want to be here, and I generally can’t stand protagonists who don’t want to be here. There’s also some forced helicopter and SUV-garnered camaraderie between Alexa and the Nervous Guy with Two Kids and then Alexa and Sebastian that doesn’t work.

Another negative is that AVP is the kind of film that never looks like anything but a movie. Everything looks like a set that was constructed last week. I don’t believe this whaling station exists or that the pyramid exists or that anyone was every sacrificed here. Even the Predators look phony, like they’re going to a cosplay convention instead of going to fight to the death against aliens. It’s a minor point and doesn’t ruin the film for me, but it is a constant visual reminder that this is all make believe.

When Weyland’s expedition hits the pyramid, there’s some puzzles to solve that seem ripped from an old video game. At least when we get to the pyramid things start happening, though I don’t know why they didn’t just start the movie en route to build some momentum.

Once the expedition unlocks a drawer with some weapons left for the Predators, the movie really picks up steam and, much to my surprise, becomes a rather enjoyable watch. Sebastian figures out that the pyramid is a manhood ritual, where young men from space come down to fight the “serpents” (what they call the aliens) to prove themselves.

As long as the aliens and Predators are fighting, I’m happy. There’s some good battles and some good visuals and a decent amount of tension. Good, not great. (Though there’s one slow-motion shot of a facehugger jumping at a Predator that’s pretty darn awesome.) I like how the Predator doesn’t kill Weyland at first because he sees the old man is sick, and I like how Weyland then stubbornly tries to kill the Predator anyway. I like how the film does what it can to personalize certain aliens and Predators by giving them noticeable injuries; it’s a small thing but it really helps to add a bit of attachment to these enemies.

Alexa and Sebastian eventually decide to ally themselves with the Predators, doing the old “an enemy of an enemy is my friend” bit, but they still have to prove themselves to the Predators because it’s not like the Predators and aliens are fighting over who gets assistance from the humans.

But really, it’s just fun to watch these two monster franchises collide. Would I have handled all of this differently? Absolutely. I don’t think we need humans in these stories, but the movie studios do, and the film minimizes their impact rather quickly. As I said, they’re just fodder for the aliens and Predators and that works enough for me. AVP isn’t a great movie, but it’s a decent amount of fun.

________________

ALIEN / PREDATOR Review Index

ALIEN: A Survivor, Unclouded by Conscience, Remorse, or Delusions of Morality
ALIENS: My Mommy Said There Were No Monsters. No Real Ones. But There Are.
ALIEN 3: A Bunch of Lifers Who Found God at the Ass-End of Space
ALIEN RESURRECTION: Must Be a Chick Thing
ALIEN VS. PREDATOR: I Think This is a Manhood Ritual
ALIEN VS. PRDATOR: REQUIEM: Small Town America Kills Two Franchises at Once

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