Friday, July 9, 2010

"5 o'clock, guess what time it is..." My review of Predators

The following review has alot of information on the film Predator and Predators. If you haven't seen them (especially Predator shame on you if you haven't!) then don't read this review if you hate being spoiled by sorry saps who like to review films for their own sakes and not yours.

In 1987, the world was introduced to a creature so hell bent on finding a thrilling hunt that it was willing to cross the galaxy and hunt special forces members mucking about in Central America. Yes, I'm talking about Predator. The film that gave us Ahnuld Schwarzenegger covered in mud shouting "get to de choppa!" while a near invisible alien hunted him and the rest of his musclebound squad one by one. The film has gone down in history as a classic monster movie/action film/sci-fi film.

Unlike it's descendants.

Predator 2 gave us a pissed off Danny Glover, an underused Gary Busey, and alot of unnecessary violence and unarousing nudity. Sure, we got new Predator stuff like all the new toys and vision modes. Hell we even saw an alien skull on the wall of the predator ship (which when I first saw sent me spinning in geek Ecstasy). But that was just the beginning of a long line of disappointment.

Alien vs. Predator and its sequel AVP: R were shoddy, poorly developed, and parody-esque in their delivery of our favorite movie monsters. You had no care for the humans (who you should care about in any movie, otherwise there's nothing the audience can emote with.). In fact, most of the characters in these films I wished would die horrible deaths, which most did, but that's not what needs to happen in a film like this. In the end we were disappointed, sick, and we just tried our best to forget these nightmares and move on with our lives without a good predator sequel.

Then Predators is announced.

I was very skeptical, at first. I thought it would be a hammy re-do like anything else you see Hollywood shit out these days, even with names like Adrien Brody and Robert Rodriguez stamped on the film. At first I was like "great, Fox is beating the dead horse with a stick again" but as I peered into how the filmmakers approached the project I was surprised. First off, Fox made an attempt to keep their slimy claws out of the picture, leaving Rodriguez near total control of the picture. This is good, considering he was dealing with the studio who cancelled Firefly and Family Guy (twice!). Second, they wanted to bring the story back to its roots, the jungle, the characters, etc. It was going to be a movie about the characters fighting for their lives, characters they wanted viewers to care about. This was a good sign.

Then, they cast Adrien Brody, the slow guy from The Village, as the main protagonist. "Wtf?" I asked myself. He's not really a guy I could believe could take on a predator. I'd rather have Danny Glover, arthritis, braces, and all fight another predator than have Brody. However, seeing initial images of Brody as Royce, I was starting to believe he could be rather good in the role. He put on 25 pounds of muscle for the role, and he looked like a soldier. I was starting to shed some of the pessimism left by the AVP films.

So over time I waited until the film came out, and at 12:02 am Thursday night, I finally got to see what all the fuss was about.

Predators is a film that will satisfy you if you are like me, who suffered through the AVP films and wished they never existed, I was very satisfied with the film. It had characters I liked (even if only 3 of the characters' names were mentioned). I was rooting for these guys, even though some were murderers. Adrien Brody rocked as mercenary Royce, the loner who finds himself leading this motley crew of killers. Even though he had the whole "batman voice" thing going on, it wasn't as ridiculous as Christian Bale's. Surprisingly enough Topher Grace was very good as serial killer/doctor Edwin, who was very unsuspecting until the end. Alice Braga was great as Isabelle a tough yet soft-hearted sniper with "an excellent ass." (if you've seen the movie you get the joke). Walton Goggins was the comedy relief as Stanz, a criminal on the most wanted list who was about to be executed. He had most of the new cheesy quotes, and was overall very entertaining. However, some of the characters were meant for cannon fodder like Danny Trejo's character who died in what seemed like the first 5 minutes (I'm not sure if this is really true). The same goes for the character Mombassa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), who isn't really all that developed (however in the age of the internet we all know his backstory from the character videos but still some more Mombassa scenes would've made for a more emotional scene when he's killed). Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov) is the big bear-ish Russian who is actually quite a nice guy even though he's carrying a heavy friggin' mini-gun around in the jungle (ol' painless didn't come in a bag this time).
Then there's Lawrence Fishburne's character, Noland. Fishburne takes a different route this time as Noland, not going for the "Morpheus/Yoda" approach and more the "crazy guy from War of The Worlds." When he's not being the main source of exposition and backstory to explain the details of the movie, he's talking to his imaginary friend (funny and creepy) and talking about "the lovely men, oh la la." In the end, Noland is just a crazy man trying to survive. This results in him trying to kill our heroes with smoke (which I find very ineffective as a method of killing your dinner guests.) so he can salvage their weapons. Alas, he is reduced to red cgi paste by a predator cannon. Overall, the characters were very good, the acting spot on (if sometimes corny or over the top, "raping bitches" and pulling a Tom Hanks/Wilson routine aside), and overall, I loved every single one of the characters.

How about the story? Is it any good? Well, yes. I mean it's very straightforward. Simple even. You've got our heroes dropped onto a Predator hunting planet and are forced to fight together to save themselves from becoming trophies for the new Predators. Royce is a bit of an asshole for most of the movie, but in the end he has a change of heart and an awesome showdown with the main Predator. Mainly the story focuses on the characters, the humans, and their attempt to survive and return home. There is an instance where I worried that they were taking the AVP route with the whole "enemy of my enemy" thing, but this time it worked as it wasn't a team-up but rather an "exchange of services." Over all, the story was just as good as the original film's.

What about the Predators? And the other new creatures introduced to the story? The Predators are finally back to their former glory. No longer cartoonish linebackers or gangly lion tamers, and certainly not heroic. These are monstrous hunters, and this film does a great job of making them fearsome antagonists once again. While slightly unnecessary, the new "breed" of Predators (or Super Predators as they've been known to be called) prove to be even nastier than their predecessor from Predator. This is shown by their different forms of hunting, they are more brutal and savor the fear of their prey. It doesn't matter if you're unarmed, it's still fun for them. They even like to tie up other predators and hunt them too. As for the new look they sport, it's a nasty twisted version of the classic look from the original. The Super Predator we actually see with its helmet off is only seen for a few seconds. It's a nasty look, and suits this breed well, but as to whether or not it's here to stay is another matter, and while I hope we'll see more classic versions in any sequels to come, the super predator look I'm still ambivalent of. "I didn't hate it" is all I have to say.
The fight between the classic predator and the super predator was awesome. While I was sad to see classic die so horribly, it was understandable considering it was up against this mean mother.
As for the idea of other creatures on the planet along with humans, I could see alot of potential for some interesting fake outs in future installments like the one we see in Predators. The "bug man" (or stickman as he's known on the forums) was very strange, and I kinda wanted to see more of him. Perhaps an explanation as to why the predators deemed it to be a worthy prey, and why they get dropped in cages and not like how the humans are dropped. Why do bugs seem to "live" in them? As to how this could be expanded on in any sequels, I'm slightly shaky. It could be cool to see some new meat land on the planet and have to work with these bug men, but then alien team ups haven't been too credible in the past (Enemy Mine being the one exception, but even then that's a stretch). Perhaps some more fighting between the humans and the bug men as they evade predators? I don't know, either way it's a possibility worth exploring if done right (but then the AVP films were worth exploring if they had been done right too).
There are also the predator dogs that we see in the film. They are only used once, and I was disappointed by this. Obviously these dogs could be used for more than just testing the human's reactions in an attempt to study their tactics. Again, this film has laid out the groundwork for another brilliant idea that if executed correctly could be completely awesome. I also like to mention that while about 80% of the dogs we see are cgi, they didn't distract me from the film in any way.

The visuals are quite impressive for a movie with this budget. But then District 9 had 30 million while this has 45, so it's not really a surprise that the visuals didn't come out looking like a sci-fi original movie. I didn't even think about the fact that this planet is conveniently similar to Hawaiian jungles, because not every jungle has to look like Pandora. By now most just figure "there are billions of stars and of those billions of stars one must look like Pandora, another looks exactly like the Mojave Desert, and another looks exactly like a jungle in Hawaii." The whole argument is moot, if Star Trek can get away with it why not anything else?

What I really liked in this movie (apart from the characters) was the action. It's been a while since I've buried my nails in the armrests of my seat, and I did just that. Even the fights I thought would be a little hokey, like the samurai/predator sword fight, were awesome (sure I figured Hanzo would've died off screen like Billy in Predator since they practically remade that scene shot by shot, but I guess this predator felt like a sword fight with Hanzo was more honorable than quickly offing him like the Predator did with Billy). The "shoot from the hip!" scenes were awesome, and the final battle between Royce and the super predator will go down as one of my most favorite fight scenes in a movie.

My only problems with the movie are small. Again, the lack of character development for Mombassa and Danny Trejo irked me a little. The fact that only three of the characters in the film actually give their names to each other (Nikolai, Royce, and Isabelle. The latter and former at the very end of the movie). Some of Stanz's jokes were almost too cheesy for me "Man when I get home, I'm gonna do soooo much cocaine!" is a line that sounded like he never snorted a single speck of cocaine in his life not even by accident (but I still laughed). Again, I found myself wondering why the Classic predator is given the role of the "good guy." Sure, in this instance it's a more believable situation it was a "you scratch my back I scratch yours" sort of thing, but still it irked me a little. Why so many decapitations? Royce decapitates so many things with ease in this movie I kept thinking "I thought it was hard to cut someone's head off, especially a super strong alien hunter's head." He even cuts the head off a pred-dog while it's in mid-leap, and I wonder if it's not so hard to decapitate something after all (it was a cinch for the immortals in Highlander after all).
Apart from those, I honestly couldn't find anything wrong with the movie. It was a great sequel to an awesome film, something fans definitely deserve after the last few horrible movies. I enjoyed it, and I do hope that the good reviews I've been hearing encourage people to go see it, because this is definitely one film that science fiction fans, action fans, horror fans, and any mixture of the three can enjoy. That, and the more money it makes the better chance a sequel can be made, and I want to know what happens to Royce and Isabelle!

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