9 July 2010

Get To Da Choppah- PREDATORS Review

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.
While sparkling vampires and boyband werewolves delight and arouse the female populace, the blokey alternative in cinemas this week is Predators, the latest in the monster hunter sci-fi franchise.

20 years after originally pitching this very script as a third Predator film, producer Robert Rodriguez has brought it to the screen, and to call it the best Predator film since the original is close to damning the film with faint praise.

As a direct sequel to the original films, Predators ignores the events of the Alien crossovers and begins with a mercenary, played by Adrien Brody, in freefall from around fifty thousand feet in the air. When he lands, he discovers he's not alone- he and a group of hardened killers must overcome their mistrust of each other to survive a predatory onslaught.

Those who've been following this series will remember that it all began with a 1987 action vehicle in which Arnold Schwarzenegger told us to “get to da choppah”. He dropped out of making the sequel in favour of a little known film called Terminator 2- Judgement Day. Danny Glover replaced him for Predator 2, which in my view ranks somewhere in the worst sequels ever made. It's little more than an offensive cop thriller packed with clumsy satire and bad dialogue, that just happens to have a Predator in it.

A sight gag in the sequel with a xenomorph head from the Alien series gave us the idea that the two franchises could cross over, so we got a pair of abominations called Alien vs. Predator, designed solely to please fans and failing even at that. Part of the reason Predator 2 sucked the big one is down to relocating the action in LA, and this one has immediately hit on the right stuff by moving stuff back into the jungle landscape that gave the original film such a strong identity. If you've seen the first one, be assured that this is more of the same, and that that's a good thing.

For one thing, the filmmakers capitalise on the fact that we're looking at another planet by giving some background to this new world, giving something like a less expository model of the world-building we saw in Avatar. They're doing something new with the material rather than just putting the Predators at the forefront. Whenever the Predators do appear, it's clear that they've reaped the benefits of advances in CG technology, and the whole thing looks a lot better than it did in the late 80s and early 90s. The only trouble is that they're chasing down much less macho prey than before.

Granted, Adrien Brody is a step up from the conglomeration of stock horror movie teens of Aliens vs Predator- Requiem, but given the similarities between this film and the first one, he's not a patch on Schwarzenegger. He tells his fellow Predator fodder that he can't do this on his own, and you say “Why not? Arnie did!”

In that respect at least, Brody is the abusive stepdad of the film, insisting on a Christian Bale Batman voice as he implicitly shuts the audience in a cupboard and rasps that Arnie isn't here now, he is. All joking aside, he's not too bad in the role, even if he's not entirely convincing as an action hero. It's just difficult to get past this, as well.

Topher Grace, on the other hand, is pants. Apparently around the time of Spider-Man 3, it was decided he was better than the romantic comedy gubbins he'd appeared in up til then, and he was ready to star in big action movies. He's not, and the moment the film asks me to take Topher Grace seriously is the moment I stop taking the film seriously as well.

On the plus side, Laurence Fishburne gives a fantastic turn as a paranoid survivor, lurking around this big old game reserve and surviving any way he can. His performance is somewhat reminiscent of Marlon Brando's Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, which was Fishburne's own first film, and he's a welcome presence in the slightly slow second act of Predators.

The BBFC have given the film a 15 certificate, and that means so much of the film seems to peer into the abyss rather than ever committing enough to jump in. There are some fantastically near the knuckle jokes that recall the more decadent sense of humour of the earlier films, such jokes most often spouted by a convicted rapist and serial killer who's been brought into the hunt from Death Row.

But it's inconsistent when you consider that the filmmakers want these characters to have learned a lesson, so to speak. We get ample proof of their self-preservation instincts, but as the film wears on, they do increasingly reckless things to help each other out. This would be fine if they were getting closer to each other, but those who are left by the last ten minutes still barely seem to even like each other, let alone willing to risk their lives for each other.

That's the least of the problems with the film's disappointingly dopey ending, but overall, it has to be said that Predators is a mostly satisfying and exciting action film, the kind that we haven't really seen enough of in the last few years. They haven't sanitised the concept down to a 12A certificate and this whole film is a shot of adrenaline to a dormant series.

There's enough creativity and action on show to warrant a big-screen viewing of Predators, especially if you're a fan of the series in general. It's also a great jumping on point for new viewers, respecting the story so far without getting over-balanced by continuity. Expect sequels to this one.

Predators is now showing in cinemas natiowide.

If and when you see Predators, why not share your comments on the film and/or my review below? If you're now stuck on Brodyquest, you have my sympathies.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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