Sometimes okay is good enough. Predators is okay. I’m not quite convinced that’s good enough this time.
Predators doesn’t feel so much like a movie as a collection of scenes that sounded cool when Robert Rodriguez pitched them. ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to see a yakuza guy get into a samurai sword fight with a Predator?’ I imagine him asking. And yes, it is cool. But it’s cool in the way a cool t-shirt is cool: momentary, shallow and meaningless. The image is interesting, but it’s never striking. And the yakuza guy fighting the Predator? I don’t know a thing about him, and I care nothing about him.
A bunch of the toughest killers planet Earth has ever seen, veering from soldiers to psychopaths, find themselves trapped on an alien planet where the Predators are hunting them. That, essentially, is the entire film. It’s a logline as script, an excuse to hang some conceptually cool scenes together and release it under the pretense of being a movie. To be fair, the original Predator wasn’t much more in-depth, but it featured characters who popped and tough guy badass dialogue that still peppers the conversations of film geeks to this day. And it was directed with a flair for action and tension by the great John McTiernan.
Predators has none of that. There are some interesting moments sprinkled throughout, but director Nimrod Antal – of whom I have been a major supporter – seems hamstrung. The editing of the film never creates atmosphere, and too many of the scenes look like they were shot in a stand of trees down the road from someone’s house. Not every film can create the totality of an alien planet that Avatar did, but Predators’ alien planet looks more or less like a small wooded area behind a strip mall. Every now and again the camera pulls out and gives us something that almost approximates scope, but it’s too rare and never big enough.
Of course a bigger alien planet would have cost money. The entire existence of Predators is owed to the low budget aesthetic of Troublemaker Studios. But good dialogue doesn’t cost anything extra, and the film has a cast that could, conceivably, deliver some lines well. But Predators‘ script, credited to Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, doesn’t give anybody much to say (except for a moment where Walton Goggins gets to call a Predator a ‘space faggot,’ which is pretty funny). And that’s because none of the characters have any definition. The original Predator wasn’t exactly a thespian’s wet dream, but that squad of musclebound goons had personality, which is completely missing from this film. Characters here have ethnicities, not even functions. There’s a Russian, a Japanese guy, an Israeli – all of them fire shots willy nilly, without much individual style. Only Adrien Brody, as the hard nosed leader of the group, gets to be remotely functional. Every other character could have been played by anybody willing to tote the weaponry.
The set up of the film puts it at a disadvantage. Where the squad in Predator had a bond, the prey in Predators are all new to each other. But the script doesn’t try to bring them together or to create relationships; the Russian guy takes a shine to Topher Grace’s character (his big character reveal is so painfully obvious from the beginning that I actually got mad at the movie for waiting so long to tell it without even bothering to try and slightly convince me it wasn’t what I knew it was), but there’s no relationship there, no interplay. It’s a way to move the Russian guy into his death scene.
Which, by the way, should be a great death scene. But without my ability to give the slightest shit about the guy, and with Antal bizarrely incapable of creating any tension, it falls flat. Conceptually it’s cool. In execution it’s just sort of there. And that’s the entire movie in a nutshell.
Adrien Brody is better than I expected in the lead role, but he has nothing to do except give semi-tactical information. The script doesn’t give him an arc; he has a sudden character reversal at the end of the movie, but it doesn’t grow organically out of anything. He does get to smear mud on himself, one of a thousand little callbacks to the first film that don’t work, and often don’t make sense (the ultimate of which is the inclusion of Long Tall Sally on the closing credits – a truly nonsensical bit of fanservice). Brody gets to look tough, and he’s more pumped than we’ve ever seen him, but it’s not a character that he’s playing. It’s not even an archetype.
isn’t terrible, but it’s not particularly good either. There’s a scene at the end where two Predators fight, and I don’t really know why they do. It’s just cool to see two Predators fight, I guess. One Predator is kind of a good guy Predator, and the other is a new-model, badder ass Predator, and when the good guy Predator died my biggest reaction was ‘That scene is now over.’ The fight was fine. Antal didn’t bring any particular flourish to it, but he also didn’t fuck it up in any noticeable way. It was a basic, barebones realization of two Predators fighting. But that’s what you do with action figures, not with movies. A movie needs stakes, it needs characters, it needs something more than good feelings generated by a ‘back to the roots’ approach. I wasn’t dying to get out of Predators, and it passed the time in a not unpleasant way, but it’s not a real movie, and it’s not something I ever need to think about ever again.
6.5 out of 10