Predator fans have earned the right to be skeptical over the years. The outright insanity of Predator 2 has to be respected (and any movie featuring Gary Busey getting his head chopped off is aces in my book), but the Alien vs. Predator films were unmitigated torture, enough to make you envy the guys who get skinned by the Predators and hung up in trees in the first film. But the new sequel, Predators, is an action-packed, unapologetically mean little B-movie that breathes new life into the series.
The movie opens with Adrien Brody falling through space, unconscious. He wakes up, naturally perturbed to find himself in free fall. He discovers a parachute, but it won’t open until it’s programmed to. After smacking into the ground in a mysterious jungle that he doesn’t recognize, Brody dusts himself off and sees several other parachutes falling out of the sky.
Brody is a former black ops soldier turned mercenary, and he soon discovers that all the other characters are skilled killers as well. There are soldiers from various war zones, Russian (Oleg Taktarov) and African (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali). There is a soldier for a Mexican drug cartel (Danny Trejo). There is a dapper, nearly silent yakuza (Louis Ozawa Changchien). And there is a death row inmate (Walton Goggins).
Alice Braga plays the movie’s token female, a soldier from some Central American country. To show you just how far feminism has advanced in the last 23 years, this movie’s token woman isn’t being dragged through the jungle by her hair; she’s just as tough as all the men.
There is also a nerdy doctor (Topher Grace) whose presence doesn’t make a lot of sense. Every combat unit needs a medic, right? Or perhaps the Predators want to see how these killers behave when saddled with a defenseless innocent?
The group soon decides that they’re on some sort of alien game preserve, and they’re the game—the world’s greatest killers hunted for sport. In a double entendre suggested by the film’s title (and stated explicitly in the movie), the human prey are as guilty of being predators as the aliens hunting them. Without a common enemy to fight, these guys would probably tear into each other pretty quickly, but they begrudgingly work together.
There isn’t a ton of plot here. The characters basically figure out where they are, what is hunting them, what the Predators’ weaknesses are, and try to find a way to beat them. The Predators are on their trail from the second they land, which makes the movie very linear and propulsive.
Because of this singular purpose, there isn’t a lot of downtime to explore the characters. We don’t find out much backstory for anybody, and in many cases we don’t even find out the characters’ names, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. These aren’t fully fleshed out, three-dimensional characters, to be sure, but the script, by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, manages to suggest a lot while providing little actual information, and the actors do a great job of fleshing out the character sketches. The god-awful Alien vs. Predator movies both spent a lot of time with characters that, frankly, I can’t remember anything about at all, but this movie, as with the original Predator, gives us good characters that don’t require a lot of set-up.
The original film featured a terrific cast of bad-asses, and while the cast members for this movie aren’t as muscle-bound as Jesse “The Body” Ventura or Carl Weathers were, they manage to hold their own, and have a great chemistry with each other. Goggins, so good on The Shield and Justified, seems to be having the most fun, tearing into the role of the convict while somehow making his character a bit sympathetic.
Laurence Fishburne also shows up in a small role as one of the Predators’ previous prey who has somehow survived on the planet for years, but has obviously gone more than a little crazy in the process.
Brody gives a good leading man performance here. He obviously doesn’t feel like he’s slumming in a monster movie. He’s buffed up, but he’s no match for Schwarzenegger in the brawn department. Instead, he becomes the group’s de facto leader because he’s the smartest, figuring out how the Predators are hunting them and what they need to do to turn the tables.
The movie does make a nod at digging a little deeper into the Predator lore, revealing that there are two distinct races of Predators which have some sort of beef with each other. Luckily, it doesn’t really give us any more than that. I don’t want to see the Predator home world, with Predator businessmen and Predator lawyers and Predators who build spaceships. I’d rather just see the Predators kill some folks. Luckily, I came to the right place.
However, when you think about it, the Predators aren’t really the great hunters they seem to be. They’re 7-foot-tall alien monsters that can (and do) rip out a dude’s spine bare-handed, but they feel the need to use laser guns and cloaking devices while hunting their clearly weaker prey. And now they have home-field advantage. It’s not very sporting, if you ask me. More like fishing with dynamite.
It’s a pretty grim premise—after all, even if they manage to kill the Predators that are hunting them, they’re still stuck on an alien planet—but the movie manages to have some fun with it. The film was directed by Nimród Antal, a Hungarian director who made a great thriller called Kontroll in 2003. Since then, he’s done well in some middling-to-decent American B-movies, including the horror film Vacancy and the heist movie Armored. Antal uses real jungle locations well here, keeps the film taut and energetic and stages the movie’s many action sequences with a lot of tension. Appropriately enough, the film’s rhythms make it feel like more of a throwback to ’80s action flicks than like any of the blockbusters you’d see today.
Predators isn’t quite on the level of the original film, but it is a thoroughly entertaining action film, and it is the first in the series since the original that feels like a worthy continuation to the series and makes it seem like the series deserves the longevity it has enjoyed.
Carey Norris writes about film for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.