Much as it shames me to admit it, I still haven’t seen Predator
or its sequel. Those two movies have been mainstays on my “to watch”
list for quite some time, but I just haven’t gotten around to them. I
was worried that this would significantly hamper my enjoyment of their
follow-up, Predators.

It didn’t.

In fact, I’d say that this movie served as an ideal introduction to
the Predators. The movie is paced extraordinarily well, gradually
introducing them and their world with a perfectly timed slow burn. The
exposition about their culture and technology was very well done,
leaving just enough to the imagination and going through it all in an
entertaining manner.

It helps that the cast is outstanding. While I thought that Danny
Trejo was grossly and inexcusably under-utilized, there’s no denying
that he did a great job with his role. In fact, all of the actors do
wonders with their characters in relatively short amounts of time.

Laurence Fishburne, for example, elevates the movie to a whole
‘nother level just by showing up. I know I’m going to catch heat for
making this comparison, but his performance here seriously reminded me
of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. His role was that crazy, that
sympathetic and that captivating to watch.

Another noteworthy actor is Alice Braga, who treads a lot of
high-wires here. She stands perfectly well on her own, but also has
intriguing dynamics with the other characters. She’s sort of a love
interest, but also sort of not. She’ll save the lives of her teammates
when possible, but won’t hesitate to put them out of their misery when
it’s not. She’s a beautiful woman who interacts with the others as if
she were one of the guys. Braga takes all of these complexities and
presents it to us in a neat and pretty little package. Very well done.

Topher Grace is in this movie, playing a very strange role. Chances
are good that you know about his character bait-and-switch already, but
that revelation doesn’t come until his last five minutes of screen time.
Fortunately, though Grace does have a few “useless burden” moments,
he’s actually rather well-utilized up until that point. Wiping the big
reveal from my brain, I had actually thought that the Predators gathered
up all the hardest badasses of Earth and then threw in a doctor just to
give them a sporting chance. Grace plays a total wuss who’s nonetheless
a competent, proactive doctor and a rather effective comedy relief.

But the leader of this ensemble is Adrien Brody, who theoretically
seems like an odd successor to Arnold Schwarzenegger. In practice, the
guy’s a badass. He plays an anonymous killer with a mysterious past, a
knack for taking charge, a clear desire to stay alive at any cost and
more muscles than I ever thought could fit on Brody’s wiry frame. Brody
takes this role and simply becomes… well, a predator. He does an
amazing job with the character, though it certainly helps that the
script and direction gave him a lot to work with. In fact, I’d say it
gave him too much.

My favorite ensemble stories (Watchmen, for example) are those
in which every character plays an integral role. There is no single
main character, but half a dozen or more of them. This is especially
useful in movies with high body counts, as it engenders concern and
doubt over which characters will die and when. Here, though all of our
main characters get their own distinct personalities, there’s absolutely
no doubt that Brody is the leader of the pack and does pretty much all
of the heavy lifting in this picture.

This movie establishes the characters’ roles in the story with the
precision and subtlety of a band saw. Right off the bat, we have a
pretty solid idea of who the heroes are, who’s cannon fodder and who’s
only there for comedy relief. And with very few exceptions, my first
guesses were all accurate. In fact, the script is very ham-fisted and
predictable in how it sets up and pays off certain plot points. There
are effective and strategically-placed “cool down” moments that allow
for some rather solid moments of characterization, though these are the
times when particular characters may as well be breaking mirrors,
walking under ladders and painting targets on their foreheads.

As for the action, there’s no denying it was effective. In fact,
there were quite a few places when the horror elements and the action
elements blended perfectly together. All the same, I couldn’t help
feeling like there really wasn’t much there that I hadn’t already seen
before. It was great stuff, but nothing I hadn’t seen before. In fact,
I’d say that’s an apt description of the entire movie. In terms of plot
points, character beats, structure and action, there’s precious little
that hasn’t already been seen umpteen times. Yet the visuals are
gorgeous, the tension is solid and the action is satisfying to watch.

What it all comes down to is that though very little of Predators
is new, most everything in it is quite well done. I found it to be a
very enjoyable action movie, well worth your dollars in this
quality-starved summer.