The first thing any writer must do when they begin to pen their latest action odyssey is probably sigh, and resign themselves to the fact that, whatever film they end up writing, it won't be half as good as Predator. What Robert Rodriguez has done, by adapting his original 1994 script (written before both AvP debacles), is turn that theory on its head intentionally: with Predators, it almost seems like he's tried to make a movie exactly
half as good as Predator. And that's fine by me.
See, the Troublemaker auteur is savvy enough to know what made the John McTiernan original great: a jungle setting, a group dynamic and a core story of man versus monster, slugging it out while at nature's mercy. Hence, Predators returns to the jungle (no city-dwelling Predators here), sees a whole new crew assembled and pits an unbelievably-buff Adrien Brody against an assortment of the universe's ugliest motherfuckers.
The problem is, it's all a little too
reverent for my liking. There's a character with a gatling gun; a sole Latino woman in a team full of testosterone-soaked muscle-men; a big swinging log trap; a tumble down a mountainside into a lake; the same iconic Alan Silvestri score; there's even a mud-slathered finale, featuring the line, "Come on, kill me! I'm here, come on, kill me, I'm here!" (albeit without the Austrian overtones). It's hard to tell if these scenes are paying a respectful homage to the Arnie original, or Rodriguez is just playing it safe.
That said, it's a good old-fashioned bad action movie; the type the eighties used to churn out on a regular basis. Effects are pleasingly practical, aside from the iconic 'hole in the jungle' invisibility, and the cast are reassuringly cardboard, meaning there's no need to get too attached - most might as well come pre-loaded with a spear in their chest, ready to burst towards camera. (Mind you, it is a little worrying when the character with all the best lines is the serial killing rapist). Nonetheless, we know why we're here: fatalities, and lots of 'em. Blood gushes like wine; spines are ripped out and held aloft triumphantly; heads are removed from bodies. This is a Predator movie all right: rated 18 and proud of it.
Imagination is generally low, but there are a couple of cool moments that linger in the memory. Danny Trejo's token Mexican gets a creepy sign-off, and a sword fight between Predator and Yakuza is surprisingly subdued. Laurence Fishburne's cameo is a hoot but sadly, is far too brief. It's one of several wasted opportunities that could have helped Predators forge its own identity instead of using the original as a crutch. A human with stolen Predator technology? The hunter becomes the hunted? Now there's an idea. Shame it was only almost
in this movie.
Why not give the game preserve planet itself a bit of character and danger, a la Pandora? As it is, it feels like the same old Guatemalan bush. And what, prey tell, is the point of a last-minute twist if it literally has no bearing on what's gone before or what's about to happen? Perhaps a script written in 1994 needs a little polish before pushing print.
Truth be told, the balance feels a little off in general. The assorted mercs and murderers dropped ass-first onto this rock have only the guns and ammo they arrived with. The Predators, however, have invisible super-suits, laser cannons and even Predator boomerangs that act as eyes-in-the-sky. That's not a fair fight, surely? True, it all comes down to a one-on-one slugfest in the end (duh) but it feels like the Predators are cheating somewhat in this sequel. And Predator dogs? File alongside 'Hulk dogs' in the folder marked 'What the fuck were you thinking?'
Still, as previously mentioned, if your expectations are for a movie only half as good as the original Predator, then you won't go home disappointed. Though he's not a patch on the Austrian Oak, Brody makes a pretty decent badass - he's certainly the first Wes Anderson lead actor to ever go shirtless with a six-pack. Not sure about the Batman voice though.
If Predators had been straight after Predator 2 as planned, everyone would probably have called shenanigans and labelled it a cheap knock-off and a lazy sequel. However, with several decades' grace period, and two abysmal Alien Vs Predator abortions still twitching in the memory, suddenly Rodriguez' back-to-basics approach looks like a pretty good idea.