Saturday, July 10, 2010

Predators: A Few Gems Among A Whole Lotta Mediocrity

Going into Predators I had mixed expectations. On the one hand, I really wanted to see new life breathed into the franchise and see some creative new spins on the classic set up. On the other hand, I just really wanted to be entertained. These were similar expectations I had going into AVP and AVP: Requiem and Predators succeeded a lot more then those other films did. Predators gave us a lot of the best parts of the Predator movies, great action, cool effects; but it also failed in certain respects. The story failed to all. The set up is a bunch of  killers are mysteriously transported to the alien planet and they are trying to evade death from the aliens and escape. The problem is thats it. We don't really get any answers or gain insight to why any of this is happening, other then the Predators want to become better fighters by hunting the best human killers. We're briefly told about a conflict between different types of Predators--smaller ones and larger ones; larger ones hunt the smaller ones--but its the most we get as far as answers. Robert Rodriguez tried to put together a solid script but failed to provide any bit of characterization. The only progression made is shown through the main characters becoming more aware of whats going on. There is a climactic twist involving Topher Grace's character which, I guess, is meant to provide characterization, and an arc for his character but it succeeds in only dumbing down the movie and is utterly stupid and 100% pointless. In fact, Grace's character wasn't even needed in the film. The "twist" doesn't impact the endgame, as far as the Predators goes, it just seems to be in there to create the illusion of a significant plot device. In other words, its like putting in a twist just for the sake of having one. Some other issues with the film involved the design of the new dog-like Predator creatures. These new creatures had tusks/horns that seemed to protrude so far and curve so far back over their own faces that it is a wonder they'd ever be able to eat their kill. I liked that Rodriguez and director Antal tried to bring new creatures into the film but they should have thought through the design more. Speaking of thinking things through more, theres one other "big twist" that happens around the middle of the film that was just as ridiculous and ludicrous as the Topher Grace one. ***SPOILER ALERT*** Midway through the film, the band of killers happen upon the Predator's camp. They notice a Predator is strung up on some kind of alien stockade looking thing. As they all move in for a closer look and see the true face of whats been hunting them, Alice Braga's character has a look of recognition on her face. Later on, she goes on to tell us that in the 80s, a group of mercenaries were in the south american jungle on a mission and some thing showed up, hunted and killed all but one soldier; she apparently either debriefed Arnold Schwarzenegger's character from the first film or read the debrief. Regardless, it was a total cheat. I admire Rodriguez' chutzpah and desire to pay homage to the original film and to try and connect the two, but he failed in what I think he sought out to do there. The big reveal in this scene elicited a mighty laugh from me. People always talk about, with 3D, how its not a good idea to break the 4th wall, Rodriguez broke the 4th wall here in terms of keeping me invested in his vision. By even bringing the first Predator film into the mix the way he did he only succeeded in disengaging me from his own story. The good news though, most of the cast worked. Alice Braga needs to be in more movies. She has a quiet confidence and all around tough swagger all her own. Walter Goggins got my attention this year for his brilliant work alongside Timothy Olyphant in Justified but here was used a bit too much for comic relief, still, he was effective. Lawrence Fishbourne swooped in long enough to make me more involved with the film before his untimely exit. He also has a very cunning, slick reference to his work in Apocalypse Now. Fishbourne should play crazy more often, it was scary how good at it he was. Last, but not least, Adrian Brody could not have been more miscast for this film, yet, its as if he knows this and doesn't care, for he found a way to make it work and by the end I had mostly bought into his mercenary, but don't even get me started on his out of nowhere, bogus Scarface-ripoff line. One character who was barely developed that I really wish had more in the film was the Yakuza. By far, the best scene in the entire film was the epic fight between the Yakuza with his samurai sword and the Predator with his blade, just a really well staged and shot scene. All in all Predators was a moderate success in updating the franchise. Its a B film that knows its a B film and doesn't try to be anything more. Hopefully the sequel works out the kinks.