“Predators” (2010) – Directed by Nimrod Antal – Starring Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Danny Trejo, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Louis Ozawa Changchien, and Laurence Fishburne.
PREDATORS is a well made, fairly engaging, throwback action movie, but it’s a bit like going to Applebee’s – they don’t give you anything extra, their meals are okay but small, the decor favors kitschy nostalgia, and halfway home when your insides are gurgling you realize the whole experience could have been handled better.
What’s great about Robert Rodriguez movies (he produces PREDATORS) is that they are unabashedly what they are, and PREDATORS opens strong, with Royce (Brody) in freefall towards a jungle. When he hits the ground he discovers other people falling out of the sky, too, and they slowly figure out they’re being hunted on an alien world.
Eventually they run into a Predator tied up to a tree. Isobel, an Israeli sniper, tells the group that she’s read the de-brief of some incident back in ’87, which is this film’s way of tying itself into the original PREDATOR movie and distancing itself from the Danny Glover and Alien-Predator films. It’s a cool way to tie the original in – I love it when films allude to the story continuing after the final credits have stopped rolling – though I suppose it’s supposed to be momentarily confusing, right? Why is a Predator captured? Who’s been chasing them? Well, it’s not confusing because you know the film isn’t going to give you some radical change. It’s confirmed later when Laurence Fishburne shows up and he tells us there’s two kinds of Predators, the smaller kind and the bigger kind and they hate each other.
I don’t believe in the “identify” school of writing that says an audience needs to have someone to identify with in a film. This is one of the reasons every other movie that gets made either takes place in New York or has a New York character; you want to have someone with whom the most populous city in the country can identify. (Think of the newsroom seen in Ron Howard’s THE PAPER where the reporters and editors cheer that there were two New Yorkers involved in some big tragedy.) I don’t think it’s bad to have someone to identify with, but I don’t think it’s necessary.
I am more of a believer in the “empathy” school, which simply dictates that you need to have someone the audience can empathize with in your story. Again, it’s not necessary, but it helps to have one.
The film is probably about halfway gone when the characters realize this, too, and one of them remarks that the reason they’ve been brought to this Predator Planet is because, “We’re the monsters of our world.”
Awesome, so am I rooting for the Classic Predator who’s tied up to a tree since he’s been captured by the New Predators, the New Predators who do what the Classic Predators did except look meaner doing it, or the humans? I know, I know, you’re saying, “You root for the humans, you species traitor!”
Here are the humans. You tell me who to root for:
1. an American mercenary who keeps abandoning everyone,
2. an Israeli sniper who’s the only woman in the film and thus the filmmakers feel the need to have her mother-hen everyone,
3. a Russian Spetsnaz special operative fighting in the Second Chechen War,
4. an American death row inmate who keeps trying to kill the African dude and fantasizing about going home to “rape some fine ass bitches,”
5. a Yakuza member who’s cut off two of his own fingers to atone for his sins,
6. a Sierra Leonean Revolutionary United Front soldier who admits to hunting humans,
7. an enforcer in a Mexican drug cartel,
8. a survivor of previous hunts who welcomes everyone into his home so he can attempt to kill them, or
9. Topher Grace.
See? No one.
OK, in fairness to Topher, he does play a purposeful jerk. Edwin is a doctor who seems to be the one person that doesn’t belong with the others, but that just makes you suspect him even more of being a bad guy. And he is – after the Russian goes back to save his life, Edwin doesn’t return the favor, and then tries to kill Isobel (the sniper) at the end of the film after she risks her life to save him.
There’s something laudable in having so many characters with unsavory backgrounds, and the Russian, the Yakuza, the RUF soldier, and the sniper aren’t unlikable characters despite their unlikable backgrounds, but they’re not the star, either. That’s Adrien Brody, who’s character talks like he’s trying to impersonate Christian Bale’s Batman but keeps letting everyone know he’s in this for himself, which makes me not care about him and not care about what happens to him.
When he does it at the end of the movie, abandoning the wounded Edwin and the helpful Isobel in order to attempt a solo escape, you think two things:
1. You really are a dick, and,
2. This movie has a lot in common with Pitch Black.
(This is the post for lists, apparently.)
Like a bad pulp novel, the movie eschews character development for surprises. Brody’s character ultimately decides to go back to save Isobel and Edwin, but we don’t see him coming to this change of plan. Instead, we see the space ship he hopped in blow up so his reappearance a few minutes later can be a surprise.
Except it’s not because you know the film isn’t going to dump it’s star without him having a big throwdown with the final Predator, especially since the sniper is now paralyzed thanks to Edwin really being a psychopath serial killer.
If the film had really wanted to be something, it would have let Brody get blowed up and Edwin survive after killing Isobel and the final Predator. That would have been asking too much, I suppose, and I’m not actually holding it against the movie for doing the predictable finish.
This is a predictable movie, after all, and that’s perfectly fine. When you do the familiar, however, you’ve got to execute really well, and this film only does a so-so job at that. The first half of PREDATORS, where it’s set in the jungle, resonates as a solid action movie. (Even the score seems like it’s out of the ’80s.) The second half, when they end up in Roland’s (Laurence Fishburne) secret hideout, it’s less successful.
For a good chunk of time the film becomes cramped and claustrophobic – it becomes, in essence, an Alien movie. By the time they get back outside it’s dark and you know that means Brody is going to rub mud all over himself because that’s what Ah-nold did.
Without anyone to really root for, however, it’s just and exercise in killing. There’s only 1 murder that’s really inventive, though, and that’s the death row inmate (Scoggins), who gets his spine and skull ripped right out of his body like this is the best Mortal Kombat scene ever filmed. Scoggins delivers his usual fine performance and has the line of the movie. As he walks behind Isobel, staring at her ass, she turns around and catches him doing it. “Your ass,” he says wit a smile, “is awesome.”
Other than that, it’s just a well-made, but unspectacular movie where unlikable monsters from two worlds try to kill each other.