The 1987 film Predator inspired a number of spinoffs from the inane (Alien vs. Predator) to the ghastly (Predator 2), and it was definitely time for a reboot before the titular hunter became a tedious cliché. I’m not a huge Robert Rodriguez fan, but this is one time where he’s assembled the perfect team for the job, and Predators is a non-stop thrill ride of an action film, laced with satisfying violence, exotic weapons, and vulgarity.
Predators immediately jumps into the action with Royce (a terrific, pumped up Adrien Brody) in freefall without having a clue how he got there. He deploys his parachute at the last possible second and slams into the earth. When he rises, he finds he’s been dropped into the jungle with a cast of killers including Central American guerilla fighter Isabelle (Alice Braga), Russian Spetsnaz soldier Nokolai (Oleg Taktarov), Mexican enforcer Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), Sierra Leon death squad soldier Mombasa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), escaped death-row convict Stans (Walton Goggins) and odd-man-out doctor Edwin (Topher Grace).
After evading some vicious traps and an attack from strange and unknown boar-like creatures, they realize that they’re not on Earth at all, but instead have been transported to an alien game preserve with strange, alien creatures seeking to hunt and kill them, purely as sport.
Most man-against-nature films get derailed with back story, narrative devices and a desire to build sympathy for the characters. Predators doesn’t waste the time, it’s an action genre picture boiled down to its essence, and it’s thrilling and suspenseful, even with the occasional plot hiccup.
There are hundreds of films based on a group of different people being dropped into a situation where they need to band together to survive a threat. It’s perhaps one of the most common themes in cinema and is the heart of just about every war movie too. Predators takes this same core dramatic concept and spins it just enough to be interesting: the majority of the humans never do learn to trust each other, begrudgingly cooperating just enough to mitigate the immediate threat.
It’s up to Royce (Brody) to come up with a strategy, a solution to the problem. But as we’d expect with a tough mercenary, his strategy is to get himself off the planet, not to rescue everyone else, a group that has few redeeming qualities anyway.
When rebooting a film franchise, it’s important to find a balance that recalls the best of the original film but creates a new visual style and storyline. With Predators the basic hunters have the same hulking, barrel-chested look and tentacle-framed faces, along with the slightly-faulty camouflage. What I enjoyed was that when there were Predator point-of-view shots, their infrared heat-sensitive view with a vertical sound analysis ribbon on the left was right out of the original. Homage, but not slavish devotion to the original source material.
Royce (Adrian Brody) and Isabelle (Alice Braga) in “Predators”
Having said all of this, the film still had lots of logical flaws and was a bit too formulaic to be a great movie. When you’re stranded on a hostile planet, food and ammunition are both going to be an issue, but the former is completely ignored and while at one point Royce says “let’s do a shell count, we need to conserve ammunition”, in the very next scene they’ve all barrels firing at a creature, ammo be damned.
Predators might be a parable about morality and destiny too: there’s a certain symmetry to the humans all being killers taken out of their natural element and hunted by a far more formidable killer. Indeed, early in the film Mombasa suggests “this place is hell”. The ending certainly makes sense in this context, and, yes, there’s the possibility of a sequel and Rodriguez has already gone on record saying that they’re exploring scripts for a “Predators 2″ movie.
Director Nimród Antal also did something I really appreciate in monster films: he left us hanging for a very long time before the Predator actually showed up on screen. In fact, the creature doesn’t show up in the film for almost 45 minutes, a smart move that lets Antal explore our fear of the unknown, even as the on-screen Predator is fairly terrifying, powerful, seemingly invulnerable and big.
As I said at the beginning, I really enjoyed Predators and think it’ll be a hit with its target demographic of 18-25 men. If you like this genre of tough guys forced to work together to overcome a terrifying obstacle or simple miss those great monster films of the late 80s, I will wholeheartedly recommend this film. I also look forward to a sequel, something I don’t say very often.