When filmmakers are tasked with following a tremendously iconic film like Predator with a sequel there’s a very slim margin of error that audiences will allow. Staying too close or straying too far from the source material will exceed that margin. Pitting unworthy opponents against the Predator also doesn’t work. Filmmakers must also find the right balance between action and suspense. The Predator brand has suffered because the last few films have failed to accommodate these variables. Predators looks to be the first film since the sequel to find the right mix, albeit imperfect, but plays things a little too safe by recycling old sequences from previous films.
Hurtling from the sky, Adrien Brody and a handful of Earth’s toughest, including IDF, RAF and Spetsnaz soldiers, as well as a convict, drug enforcer and Yakuza hit man, are dumped on an alien planet without any idea of where they are or why they’re there. When they discover traps meant for larger creatures and they are attacked by ferocious dog-like animals, the group realizes that they’re being hunted and that the planet is actually a game preserve for Predators. The team of strangers must band together to survive and hopefully find a way back to Earth.
The plot is short and simple and the movie wastes no time with the setup. Almost all of the characters are introduced within 10 minutes and the group accurately gauges its predicament, formulates a plan and mobilizes just as quickly. It actually feels a little too quick. The audience isn’t really given a real sense of the characters’ personalities or their abilities except for Adrien Brody – who becomes the de facto leader – and the IDF sniper (Alice Braga) before people start getting picked off. While it isn’t necessarily important to get to know each and every character – even a little bit – in a film where a high body count is expected, it certainly would have been welcome.
In many ways, fans of the original Predator will feel nostalgic watching Predators. Not only is the film set in a jungle, but iconic moments are also repeated, including long stares into the trees, a self-sacrificing melee and a mad dash to “get to the chopper!” There’s even an echo of Aliens thrown in with one character telling another that when the time comes “I’ll do us both” and Adrien Brody’s exchange of names with Alice Braga. The driving, sometimes-bombastic soundtrack is mostly intact as are all of the trademark Predator sounds. Except for unrealistically enhanced infrared vision and the introduction of a Predator caste system, there’s actually not much innovation on the existing brand, which may relieve or disappoint audiences depending on expectations.
It’s obvious that Predators gambled very highly on the nostalgia factor and gets it right for the most part. A few issues arise, however, when some of the trips down memory lane feel contrived, like a mud-camouflage fight scene where the character wearing the mud simply appears wearing it. Another character inexplicably sacrifices himself to go toe to toe with a Predator ala Billy from the original. The difference here is that while it made sense that Billy’s character might sacrifice himself for the sake of friends and comrades in arms, there’s no reason for the character in Predators to be so altruistic for people who were strangers not more than a day ago. The ensuing melee, however, is one of the more inspired scenes and will remind of the beautiful fights found in old samurai and anime films.
By and large, the cast is fun to watch and Adrien Brody just barely pulls off playing a tough, battle-hardened mercenary, although he does suffer from trying to speak a little too gruffly as a way to compensate for his slim physique. Even the supporting actors do a fine job letting their characters breathe as much as they can without overplaying them, like Laurence Fishburne, who plays addled, longtime survivor Noland. Topher Grace stands out negatively in the cast as Edwin the seemingly useless doctor, but his negative impact is less about his acting and more about his character in relationship to the film.
The filmmakers tried to be creative with some story elements, but ultimately diminish the film with their inclusion. For instance, it’s refreshing that the Predators included a variety of prey that extended beyond military, but it didn’t make sense to put a Yakuza in the middle of a jungle. Furthermore, what made the Predator so fearsome was that it was pitted against fearsome human beings that could take a beating and then some. Watching Adrien Brody – who could fit inside Schwarzenegger’s body twice over – take on a Predator just isn’t as satisfying. Finally, Topher Grace’s character simply wasn’t necessary to the film and feels like some kind of half-baked attempt to preach by the end.
Despite these issues, Predators is a success and an entertaining – if also formulaic – time. Since the film obviously sets up a sequel, here’s hoping that the next installment takes a few brave leaps into new material.