In 1987 the hunt began. Predator is today recognised as one of the best sci-fi films ever committed to celluloid; an exhilarating combination of blood soaked extra-terrestrial carnage, macho action and gut wrenching tension. Along with James Cameron’s original Terminator flicks it probably ranks as the strongest picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career, and birthed a monster as celebrated and beloved as any in the history of filmmaking. However whilst Predator was a monumentally entertaining effort, its sequel was not. 1990’s Predator 2 has always struck me as a mighty misfire, and the less said about the underachieving Alien vs. Predator hybrid franchise the better. It’s refreshing then to see Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal returning some credibility to the ailing beastie, finding some of the form that made the original picture such a gorgeous commodity to behold. Predators is finally a follow-up worthy of being associated with John McTiernan’s 1987 classic, and even if it’s never truly as good, it isn’t for a lack of trying.
Having been dropped in the middle of nowhere with a random gallery of rogues, mercenary Royce (Adrien Brody) is left clueless as to where he is and how he got there. As he and the motley band of misfits make tracks across the huge foliage filled environment, Royce begins to suspect they are being hunted, and that the luscious but deadly jungle they’re in isn’t one belonging to earth. On both counts his suspicions are proved correct, with a band of Predators having dumped the hapless (but still armed) humans into a game preserve planet, allowing the ultimate hunt to commence. Royce realizes the only way to survive is to face the enemy head on, and seek some sort of escape from the thickly vegetated planet in the process.
As was the case with his satisfactory 2007 thriller Vacancy, Nimrod Antal has taken a simple premise and turned it into solid multiplex entertainment with Predators. The film captures the spirit of the original film and seeks to play out the same jungle based nightmare that haunted Arnie back in 1987. As a result Predators isn’t perhaps the most original project ever filmed, but it provides enough excitement and well orchestrated action to render itself worthwhile. The film makes the monsters once again fearsome, something that was evidently lacking in the neutered sequels. Predators also deserves kudos for offering audiences such a beautiful and engaging environment for the plot to play out; it’s a well designed setting and one that is rife with atmosphere and imagination.
Adrien Brody is excellent as the gruff hero in Predators, something that I frankly wasn’t expecting. Brody has proven himself a terrific actor in many films, but Predators marks his first foray into full blown action man mode and he does good work. Alongside a competent Alice Braga (playing a markswoman also dropped into the hellhole) Brody is the only properly three dimensional character on show, placing a certain level of responsibility on the actor. Brody rises to the challenge, utilizing both violence and subtle emotional insights to make Royce a figure worth remembering. Other cast members like Topher Grace, Danny Trejo and Oleg Taktarov all do the best they can playing the more underdeveloped prey, but are ultimately limited by a script that notably neglects them. Laurence Fishburne also appears in a small part but makes quite an impression, taking the role of a victim exposed to the Predators for too long. It provides an eerie and unsettling extra level of threat to the movie, even if Antal drags the subplot out for longer than he should.
Predators starts slowly but ramps up to a well executed finale, with several enticing and robust action set pieces available on route. A tighter edit wouldn’t have done the picture any harm (the Predators don’t really appear for about 40 minutes) but when Antal brings out the monsters, he also unleashes an ample selection of thrills and professionally executed moments of bloodshed. As an action picture and a chase feature Predators truly works, what it lacks in innovation it makes up for in style and energy. Predators is never a boring watch and captures the mood and spirit of the 1987 film effortlessly, even if it can’t match it in terms of momentum and creativity. The monsters themselves have also been retooled slightly, whilst still harking back strongly to Stan Winston’s original legendary design. The Predator is truly an imposing antagonist and Predators exploits that fact frequently; injecting menace back into a monster that had slowly been losing its’ mojo over 23 years.
The production also gives audiences some neat expansions on the Predator way of life, making their jungles hostile and even showcasing the Predator equivalent of a dog. It’s a neat additive and one that filmgoers are likely to appreciate amidst some of the more conventional elements. The cinematography is attractive and Antal directs with passion and style, something that helps compensate for the lean storyline. Predators is a fun B-movie and a long awaited return to form for the universe’s most dangerous hunter. Fans should eat this stuff up, and even those with less affinity toward this particular series should still find this latest instalment to be an agreeable and enjoyable slice of popcorn cinema.
Director: Nimród Antal
Cast: Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo
Runtime: 106 min