I have no idea how an actor as esteemed as Adrien Brody – once the youngest ever male to win a Best Actor Oscar and the only American to have won France’s prestigious Best Actor César Award, lest we forget – would find himself attached to a flagging franchise like this. The imaginatively-titled Predators may be a big budget sequel, but really, Adrien? It’s been a long, long time since Arnold Schwarzenegger’s musclebound hero Dutch screamed “Get to da choppaaaaah” in the middle of a Nicaraguan jungle, and since John McTiernan’s original action flick Predator appeared we have already been subjected to one middling sequel starring Danny Glover and Gary Busey (which a friend of mine still maintains – with tongue in cheek, I hope – is the greatest film ever made), as well as two dismal crossover films with the Alien franchise.
After ogling Hungarian director Nimród Antal’s recent instalment I felt it necessary to Google the search term “wtf Adrien Brody Predators … huh?” and, as it transpires, Brody was a huge fan of McTiernan’s original and Schwarzenegger’s performance in particular (which may well be true, but it’s worth remembering that he said this while undergoing promotional duties). The actor was certainly committed to this project, beefing up his slender frame prior to production and living alone in the Hawaiian jungle for several weeks in order to get into character, but it still seems like an odd career choice for someone who has worked with directors like Oliver Stone, Woody Allen, Rian Johnson, Wes Anderson, Dario Argento, Spike Lee and Roman Polanski in the past. That said, he is not adverse to a spot of big screen blockbuster action, as anyone who saw Peter Jackson’s bloated King Kong will know.
Brody’s the clear star of this film, which is set entirely on a distant planet that serves as a game reserve for the alien Predator species. His character Royce (ex-special forces blah blah and thrice blah in bold) wakes up – intriguingly – while falling to the ground in freefall, with no memory of events directly preceding his spectacular plummet. How did he end up in a plane? Who threw him out at 20,000 feet? And is that Danny Trejo down there?
Upon landing Royce finds himself in the middle of a jungle alongside a similarly-perplexed multinational league of badasses, incorporating Mexican drug cartel enforcer Cuchillo (Trejo), Yakuza gangster Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), Israeli Defence Force sniper Isabelle (Alice Braga), Sierra Leone death squad soldier Mombassa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), Russian commando Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov) and other oddly co-operative criminal and military stereotypes. Each character, conveniently, has their own specialist skill (though Topher Grace’s understandably jumpy doctor seems suspiciously out-of-place) and yet as you’d probably predict most of them may as well be wearing a t-shirt with the words ‘Meat’ and ‘Dead’ stencilled on it in fluorescent colours.
While trying to figure out what exactly has happened the group is attacked by four-legged alien beasts and must evade a variety of pre-rigged death traps. A trip to higher ground reveals a colourful sky, and it finally dawns on this wild bunch that they’re not in Freetown anymore. The chameleon-like predators close in for the kill and Royce et al must use all their wits in a desperate fight for survival blah blah and THRICE BLAH IN BOLD ALL CAPS.
Distancing this film from the dismal Alien vs Predator sub-series was an obviously wise move to make, and producer / driving force Robert Rodriguez was keen to stress its links to McTiernan’s original (though the aforementioned Predator 2 has conveniently not been discussed). Brief reference is made to the events of Predator, and there are structural parallels (the earlier film also dropped the viewer right in the middle of the action at the start, if memory serves, and like Predators the location never changed). The problem with that is if you’re aligning a new film with a fondly-remembered 80s classic, then it’s also going to be judged by way of comparison to it, and unfortunately this sequel is not quite up to scratch.
Though he handles the action sequences adequately, Antal fails to re-create the same level of tension that made Predator so gripping, which is perhaps due in part to our over-familiarity as viewers with the threat posed by these alien hunters (though it is pointed out that the creatures constantly adapt and become ever more dangerous, in an attempt to try and keep them interesting). The jointly-penned screenplay by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch is based on the assumption that more aliens equals more thrills, yet while watching I found myself craving the simplicity of McTiernan’s original, which had just the one predator. Sub-plots involving Laurence Fishburne as a shady Colonel Kurtz-esque survivor, in-fighting amongst the alien tribes and the murderous tendencies of one of the humans annoyingly distract from the matter at hand – namely the fate of Royce and Isabelle, given we can expect the deaths of everyone else – but these strands are not particularly interesting and they are not explored with any great conviction.
I have several other problems with the film, though admittedly these are minor. When the humans that have been transported to this alien world realise they’re no longer on Earth, they seem to accept this fact and move on without much surprise, or discussion. Granted they are being hunted and are barely able to stand still for a moment, but greater reflection on the oddness of their situation would have been welcome. Secondly, the ease with which they are able to communicate with one another in English is suspect when there are only three Americans in the group. And lastly the make-up of this alien world is perhaps too close to our own, although I guess that partly explains why it has been chosen as an intergalactic ‘game reserve’, if humans are the prey. Sure there may be a few alien beasts running around, and a couple of poisonous plants are identified, but greater creativity with regard to the design of this planet may have distinguished Predators from its predecessors without severing ties completely.
My biggest problem, however, is with the ending. It’s not unusual for films to indicate that a follow-up is in the pipeline these days – in fact new statistics reveal that 93% of movies released in 2014 to date are either re-boots, sequels, crossovers or the first parts of a quadrilogy based on some young adult fiction or other and all of these must finish with an open ending by law – but increasingly it is beginning to look like a cop-out, a limp denouement that isn’t even sheepishly presented to the viewer with a vague air of embarrassment any more. Half the time these are so disappointing the director should be forced to appear on screen directly afterwards, before the credits roll, to issue a sincere public apology as people leave their seats or get up to switch the plug off. I won’t explain in detail what happens at the end of Predators, but the main characters are left in limbo, and it’s irritating to say the least when you’ve been raised to expect a full stop at the end of this kind of movie. A sequel is rumoured to be in development with Shane Black due to direct, but it’s already more than four years since Predators appeared in cinemas and no official release date has been announced for Predatorsier or the inevitable Predatorsiest. Will Brody actually bother with it or has he had his fill for now? Will anyone remember the characters here or the situation they found themselves in? And what use is an ending that points towards a follow-up if there isn’t actually a follow-up? (The same question could be asked of last year’s World War Z, though it now looks as if a second movie will be made eventually, much to the relief of no-one.)
Criticism aside, as a straightforward provider of guns n’ ammo thrills Predators ticks most of the boxes, and Brody is surprisingly convincing as an action hero, considering his usual body size (though as an extremely competent actor perhaps it should have been expected). There are a couple of throwaway fight scenes that impress – the Japanese character gets to fight with a samurai sword, predictably – and the link to the 1987 original is emphasized with a few choice one-liners, echoes of dialogue and copies of the shots that show the aliens’ perspective through heat vision. We also see more of the predators than in the earlier films, which is something fans probably enjoy, although I’ve always liked the less-is-more approach of McTiernan (whether it was due to budget constraints or not). If you want to kill an hour or two you could do worse, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that this franchise should never actually have become a franchise in the first place. It was finished when Arnie had the line ‘What da hell are you?’ repeated back to him by his ugly, dying nemesis. This is predictable fayre, despite the flipping of the setting.
Directed by: Nimród Antal
Written by: Alex Litvak, Michael Finch
Starring: Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Laurence Fishburne
Running Time: 107 minutes