We all know why we’re here. We’re fans of Aliens, we’re fans of Predator. So it goes without saying that everyone reading this review will be knowledgeable in the Predator franchise and have seen the previous 2 movies more times than they can count. I know I can’t count. Predator is a brilliant film and Predator 2 is also a good film – not as good as Predator, let down by hammy acting and not so amazing characters but the actual parts of the film with the Predator in are just plain awesome.
We’ve all suffered through the recent Aliens vs Predator films which have also managed to slap the individual franchises in the face as well as being bad films all around. We’ve been waiting for a decent Predator film for a while now.
I didn’t think Predators was going to be it. I’ve read Robert Rodriquez’s original draft and it was awful. Just plain awful. I also read that leaked draft of Alex Litvak and Michael Finch and wasn’t that keen. At all. But I walked out of the cinema a very happy man.
So much in Predators works. The acting in particular is great. All of the actors portray their characters with the weight and gravitas that is deserved for killers like these. I remember there being some concern when Adrian Brody was cast but he carries the role and the movie. I completely bought into Brody as a mercenary and really liked his character. Walton Goggins was a favourite of mine. He brought the laughs to the film through his deadpan comments and humour. I really enjoyed Stans.
Isabelle, as played by Alice Braga, offers a sympathetic character for those of us in the audience who aren’t able to relate to the other killers. I did find it somewhat stereotypical that the less monstrous character would happen to be a female. And, of course, Topher Grace. He plays Edwin, an unassuming character who shows no reason as to why he’s with this group. I found him wonderful. He overplayed nothing and really came across as this innocent and the odd man out.
Laurence Fishburne, like in the leaked script, doesn’t have much screen time but he provides the exposition that we need. But more than that Fishburne portrays him as a schizophrenic which was not in the original draft by Litvak and Finch and it really brings Nolan into another area. So instead of being the “exposition character”, the audience and characters can see what the options for this hunting planet are. You can die by the blade of the Predator or you can hide and live and turn into this crazy person who talks to himself. Not much of an existence and it only goes to further Royce’s determination to get off the planet.
As an ensemble, it’s easy to believe in the characters and actors. They’re not in this for the team activities, they’re in this to survive: Royce especially. One particular moment I loved was when Stans pulled a blade to Mombasa’s throat, demanding a gun. It was believable and resonated with the panic the character was feeling. I also liked the small relationship Edwin and Nikolai struck up. Oleg Taktarov really played Nikolai as this sort of innocent but deadly bear. It’s an interesting contrast.
What I think really makes Predators stand up as a better film is that it takes itself seriously. It would be too easy to slip into that 80’s feel to pay tribute to Predator and make it way to cheesy. Thankfully none of that happens. There are no ridiculous one liners. No stupid characters like Tony Pope. This is life or death and the film does not detract from the severity of the situation these characters find themselves in.
There are two situations that I didn’t really like. Nolan’s death, in particular, as he is killed by a shoulder cannon blast. Where everyone else had a wound or a blast hole in them, Nolan literally explodes in a shower of CGI gore. Stans’ death was also too over the top for me. The way it is cut looks like Beserker just leans over Stans who is still alive and just rips his spine and skull out. It seemed completely out of place. I wasn’t keen on how they were handled.
There are hardly any homages! There are so few in the film that I think this deserves a huge shout out. Alien vs Predator and AvP Requiem ended up being theatrical montages of the best bits of the previous films. There is none of that here. No forced dialogue from the first film. The few that are in Predators are extremely small: The chaingun, Nolan whispering “over here” and of course, the big macho, topless fight at the end of the movie but that is played out so differently you can hardly even call it a homage. This is its own film.
In fact, it was John Debney’s score that contained the most material from the original film. He’s there and he’s telling you “This is a Predator film!”. I really missed the Predator theme from the AvP’s but it feels so right in Predators. A lot of motifs and themes from Alan Silvestri’s score are used in Predators but Debney also adds his own twist to the material and creates his own unique pieces that really add to the tension and danger that is being shown on screen.
I’d also like to address the uproar regarding Rodriquez saying he was ignoring the past 3 films. It feels a lot like Predator and I can certainly see where he’s coming from in making this a spiritual sequel to Predator but absolutely nothing in Predators contradicts anything in Predator 2 or the AvP movies. It fits in perfectly within continuity. So Predator 2 fans fear not, it hasn’t been erased and completely negated.
The film takes its time and doesn’t rush into anything. The pace is steady as the characters discover each other and start to figure out just how bad their situation is. Antal doesn’t rush into showing us the Predator but when he does we find the classic Predator strung up. He’s in the same situation as our characters. Really goes to deepen just how dangerous this new group of Predators is.
And I have to say, Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero from KNB FX have done a brilliant job with the new suits. The Predator’s face no longer looks like rubber, those ridiculous upper teeth are gone. They’ve made ADI’s efforts look amateur in comparison. The new Super Predators’ designs also looked fantastic on screen.
Their armour and masks are different enough to differentiate them from the original design but also not overdone like the heavily armoured linebackers that were Paul Anderson’s Predators. We do only see the unmasked face of one of the new Predators, the Berserker Predator who is the leader.
The basic appearance is the same but they do look different. If you’re willing to accept that the Super Predators are not the same as the originals then you will not mind the appearance. Thankfully, the Super Predators are no longer mutants like in the early draft. Their blood is still green, there is absolutely no mention of them cutting up prey and genetically altering themselves to become better hunters. Nolan describes it as “the difference betweens dogs and wolves”. They are simply a different Predator race/clan or a sub-species.
Due to the number of the Predators, they are not given much chance to be individualized. They are all portrayed as sadistic, more so maybe than Anytime from Predator. Traps are set for the characters, they don’t rush the kills, they take their time and seem to savour the fear. Carey Jones, Brian Steele and Derek Mears all do a great job in portraying the patience and grace of the Predators.
The film is more about the humans, the title relating to the characters more than the group of Predators, I feel. We see just how determined the characters, Royce in particular, are to survive this and how they all react under the understandably stressful situations.
The FX are minimalistic and not overdone in the slightest. I can see how Troublemaker got this done on a small budget and it doesn’t detract in any way from the film. Certain aspects of the FX are given a touch up, the cloaking effect has a slight touch up and looks different, as has the shoulder cannon’s blasts. But none of it seems out of place or completely ridiculous.
In terms of how the film adds to the existing mythology of the Predator, we have the concept of preserve planets, this new subspecies of Predator and additional alien lifeforms: In an attempt to bait out the Predators, the group actually take out another alien who is being hunted by the Predators. We know him as Stickman but his design is more beefy than the concept art we’ve seen.
The Predator Hounds are also introduced and used to test how the characters react to the situation. The Super Predators use a single scythe-like blade instead of wrist-blades. This is used to great effect during the Hanzo duel. One thing I did think that seemed underused was the “falcon”. It didn’t appear to look like a bird but came across as a tracking device that didn’t see much screen time. I don’t think it would have harmed the film if it was removed. Berserker’s shoulder canon isn’t a mini-gun like in the original draft, it’s back to basics but it does have a different method of charging up where a component in the canon whirls up and charges.
Now the climax. A lot of reviews have cited some issues with it. The film goes from that steady, heart pounding, tension oozing pace to a relentless action piece. Event after event happens until we get to the much awaiting Classic vs Berserker fight. It was an extremely brutal and primal fight but I did find the editing slightly confusing but then again, the Dutch vs Predator fight in the original also has several confusing cuts. It also seemed too short to me but more than anything I think it was done to show just how dangerous these new Predators are. I really enjoyed the fight but I can’t help but get the feeling that hardcore fans of the original Predator and Anytime will not like the fight.
I absolutely loved the end fight with Royce and the Berserker. Having been told how Dutch defeated the first Predator (Isabelle somehow knows about the events in Predator. I must admit I was curious as to how a member of the Israel Defense Force knew about it), Royce takes the idea, runs with it and completely fucks up Berserker. It was amazing and once again, I could completely buy into Brody as this intelligent and ruthless man.
But it’s not all substance, what about style? Nimrod Antal has a great eye in this. Many of the shots are brilliant, Antal brings some lovely camera movements into play and it’s this style and eye that makes Predators stand above the previous entries and rival the original Predator.
You know, I travelled 4 and a bit hours on a bus, paid £20 on transport to go see it (hardly free) and had to traverse a confusing city to get to the cinema. And it was completely worth it. I’m still excited to go see it again on opening day, I really am.
Don’t get me wrong, I love both original Predator movies but for acting, story and direction, it blows Predator 2 out of the water and I consider it just as good as Predator. Despite minor gripes, it’s a solid action film but more than that, it’s a proper Predator film. It feels like a true sequel in every sense of the word and for once, I’m not disappointed.