In 1987, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a huge action star and pitting his muscles against an invisible alien predator in a jungle was a (relatively) original concept. It was a box office success and inevitably led to sequels and spin-offs. Then in the mid-1990s, Robert Rodriguez who had dazzled the film world with his low-budget hit El Mariachi, was asked to write a sequel of sorts which was then ignored. It is this script that forms the loose basis for this retread.
While Arnie’s actioner was never likely to win an Oscars (some decent special effects aside), it did at least maintain some level of tension and the odd surprise, not least because this wasn’t anything we’d seen before. Predators simply goes over the same ground. The story this time round involves various dangerous types – human predators, apparently – being parachuted in to a mysterious jungle. The protagonists are a hilarious exercise in ethnicity box ticking, a United Colors of Benetton ensemble with, get this, a US former black ops mercenary (Brody), an Israeli sniper (Braga), a white trash psychopathic murderer (Goggins), a Russian Special Forces soldier (Taktarov), a Mexican drug gang enforcer (Trejo), an African soldier warlord (Ali) and a Yakuza killer (Changchien). There’s also an American doctor (Grace) who seems to be there to represent the everyman. The notion seems to be that because for the most part they’re dangerous, they’ve been selected to give the predators a decent fight while also removing them from society. But if it was so easy to snatch them and make them disappear, why not simply kill them? Why take the trouble to send them to (obvious spoiler alert) another planet?
Clearly this isn’t a film that bears much analysis, but even by its own ridiculous logic it fails. The alien predators have laser cannons which they use to kill their prey and yet when Hanzo the Yakuza hit man faces up to one them with a Samurai sword, the creature decides to use its retractable blade. Why? Just to make a fair fight of it? So these aliens, with their computerised weapons have a sense of fair play? What?! Not only does this look almost exactly like the original, but some of the scenes are replicated. There are booby traps, people fall off a cliff into water, the characters get grumpy, swear a lot and nearly kill each other – the whole thing is unutterably predictable and because of that, dull. There’s also way too much talking. Everyone talks in clichés and what I naively thought was a failing of Predator turns out to be stroke of genius. By explaining virtually nothing, you’re left wondering and focusing on the action. Having the characters provide explanations simply slows things down and draws attention to the woeful script.
Perhaps worst of all is that the special effects do not appear to have improved one iota in 23 years. If this had come out in 1994 when Rodriguez wrote his script, I’d have been thinking, “this isn’t a patch on Terminator 2.” As for the actors, they all do what they can although I’m not convinced putting on a gruff Batman-type voice and getting pumped up makes Brody an action hero. And if the argument is that he’s a different kind of hero then why bother with the muscles at all? Predators is nothing more than a cynical exercise in moneymaking based on the premise that the youth of today haven’t seen the original and they somehow deserve a more modern version. This doesn’t have poor production values as such but it is pointless, predictable, clichéd, and badly written and if this is all modern filmmaking has to offer, I’m not interested. And for the record, I didn’t even think that much of the original.
SECOND OPINION | Stuart O'Connor ??? Let's face it, I'm a huge fan of the original Predator, which still stands up well today. (Don't get me started on the terrible sequel and the truly awful AvP spinoffs.) And while I enjoyed Predators much more than Justin did, the biggest problem with the film is its similarity to the original. It's extremely well made, and it's nice to see the Predators being played by blokes in rubber suits rather than a bunch of pixels from a computer. The pacing is perfect, and there are some truly terrific action scenes. But it completely lacks any surprise or originality. It brings nothing fresh or new to the Predator universe, and that to me smacks of a missed opportunity. Every step of the way, I knew just where the plot was heading. And there are some scenes, and dialogue, that are lifted straight from the first film. Don't get me wrong – it's hugely entertaining, and is a perfect summer popcorn movie, which is why it gets three stars. But I can't see this one having the staying power of big Arnie's outing.