Hollywood loves a good franchise. The movie-going public does too. Horror, action, comedy, sci-fi, western, no genre is safe. And any film, no matter how seemingly stand-alone, conclusive, or inappropriate to sequel, could generate an expansive franchise. They are legion. We are surrounded. But a champion has risen from the rabble to defend us. Me. I have donned my sweats and taken up cinema’s gauntlet. Don’t try this at home. I am a professional.
The Franchise: Predator: following the deadly encounters between a tall, dreadlocked alien race that scours the galaxy in search of dangerous species to hunt and kill — dangerous species such as man! Dun dun dunnn! The proper franchise spans three films, from 1987-2010, as well as two ancillary cross-over films featuring the xenomorphs from the Alien franchise.
The Installment: Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
We pick up moments after the conclusion of AVP, when a Predalien bursts from a Predator’s chest and runs amok on board the Predator spaceship. The ship in turn crashes in the forest of Gunnison, Colorado, and xenomorphs get loose. When the news of this interstellar debacle reaches the Predator home-world, a “cleaner” Predator is sent to Gunnison to kill the xenomorphs and destroy all the evidence. Meanwhile a bunch of irrelevant shit is happening with several different humans in the town.
One thing that is great about a long-running franchise – at least from the perspective of something like Franchise Me – is that eventually the powers that be reach that sweet who-gives-a-shit phase, when filmmakers are running out of new ideas and the money-men become confident/indifferent (confindifferent?) that audiences will pony up dough as long as you keep the show going. This is the moment when most franchises either get really strange or spiral into oblivion. Usually both! This is when Jason Voorhees fights a psychic, when the Enterprise searches for God, when Ripley becomes a hybrid clone. In this instance, this is when a Predator troubleshooter runs around a small town covering up a crime instead of hunting humans.
AVPR has some debilitating problems that badly muddy its water, which is a shame, because there is in fact a fairly appealing and unusual film hidden in plain sight here. Our main Predator is basically Harvey Keitel’s character from Pulp Fiction, or Michael “Mike” Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad. He isn’t hunting humans. He’s cleaning up his species’ mess. That alone is incredibly bizarre if you really stop to think about it in the context of what has come before in this franchise. The humans in the AVP subseries are pointless. The Cleaner Predator is a big move towards having a Predator protagonist. And as far as story mechanics go, Cleaner Predator for the most part is AVPR‘s protagonist (more on this in the next section). With each installment in this franchise we glean a little bit more about the Predator race, and AVPR represents the deepest glance behind the curtain. For one thing, we finally get to see the Predator home-world. This plays out more as an afterthought than a “wow, we’re on the Predator home-world!” moment, but such is the oddity of the film — it seems to sneak cool things in while you’re busy not liking it. I don’t think this attribute makes AVPR a quality film, but it is nonetheless the film’s secret appeal. The film’s execution glosses over the weird ideas, but the ideas are there. Whenever the story is focusing on Cleaner Predator’s mission, especially towards the beginning, it is oddly interesting. I liked seeing Cleaner Predator putting together what happened at the spaceship crash site, mourning the death of his homie, watching security footage, and then suiting up with specialty weapons for his task at hand. And AVPR has the wildest Predator weapons yet. From the seemingly magic all-purpose Destructo-Liquid (used to destroy evidence), to the Predator’s portable grid of deadly lasers (which he knocks some xenomorphs into, dicey them up), to the fact that he has a fucking razor whip. A whip! They gave the Predator a whip. Which he uses in conjunction with a handgun (modified from his shoulder gun). He’s like a cowboy Predator.
In fact, AVPR surprisingly makes a lot of franchise movement. Aside from taking us to the Predator home-world, AVPR, for all its seeming irrelevancy, finally does what the Alien franchise kept threatening to do — it brings the xenomorphs to civilization. And quickly. In AVP we had to wait nearly an hour to get some xenomorph action. This film at least realizes the audience probably wants some monster mayhem if they bothered to buy a ticket. In this area, AVPR doesn’t fuck around. Five people are already dead by the 20 minute mark, the Aliens move from the sewers into the city at the 42 minute mark, and by the hour mark all hell has broken loose and the military has been called in. These are exactly the beats that an Alien versus Predator movie needs to be hitting. Both franchises have kept the creatures in the shadows or in secluded locations. At long last we get some sheer pandemonium. Ripley was always so confident that humanity would be completely wiped out if the xenomorphs so much as stuck their toe into our population. At some point we needed to see if she was right. And the film’s denouement is cute, in which a recovered piece of Predator technology is presented to a woman addressed as Ms. Yutani, continuing the links behind the Weyland-Yutani corporation started in AVP.
And while the Predalien pushes the franchise into a somewhat silly direction, it had to happen. We know the xenomorphs can plant themselves into any living creature, and Alien 3 demonstrated that the xenomorphs take on attributes of their host. Every little kid who thought about Aliens fighting Predators wanted to know what would happen if a Predator got face-hugged. And here it is. I don’t get why a Predalien Queen doesn’t lay eggs, instead shoving embryos directly into hosts mouths herself, but whatever. It is new. And gross. And a convenient plot device for getting a lot of xenomorphs very quickly (as the Predalien can jam multiple chest-bursters into a single host).
AVPR is an incredibly cynical and ugly film. Objectively, this is a mistake. But I rather liked it. The human characters are so awful and aggravating, that I just wanted to see them all die. And directors Colin and Greg Strause, and screenwriter Shane Salerno, seemed to feel the same way. They delight in being cruel to the humans. The first two humans to die are a father and son. The father gets his arm burnt off with xenomorph acid and even the little boy gets face-hugged and later chest-bursted. A woman tearfully wondering what happened to her husband? Well, she’ll never even find out he died, cause Cleaner Predator covers the whole thing up. A little boy tells his dad that he saw a monster outside. Dad doesn’t believe him, of course. Dead. A pregnant woman gets face-raped by the Predalien, and you partially assume that maybe she’ll get saved somehow. Nope. Dead. Her unborn baby? Dead. Every single newborn infant in the hospital? Also dead. And the film’s female love interest that we spent so much boring time setting up? Killed by the Cleaner Predator by accident! By. Accident. Then, not unlike Return of the Living Dead, the entire town gets fucking nuked at the end by the government.
What Doesn’t Work:
While I enjoyed how cruel the filmmakers were to the obnoxious human cast, I would have enjoyed it even more if I hadn’t found the humans obnoxious in the first place. AVPR‘s hobbling flaw is its “heroes.” AVP wasted our time, focusing too much and too long on the humans before getting to the good stuff. AVPR doesn’t do this. Which is good. Yet the side-effect of getting to the good stuff so immediately is that it also immediately highlights that anything happening with the humans is uninteresting. Especially once Cleaner Predator shows up and starts fucking shit up. So our time is still wasted. Because AVPR has attributes of a disaster film, it seems the filmmakers felt they needed attributes of a disaster film cast — namely a group of unrelated characters who are brought together over the course of the film by said disaster. But we don’t need that. We don’t need half the characters we get. The central hero is ex-con Dallas (Steven Pasquale), who returns to town the day the monsters show up. We also get his punk younger brother Ricky (Johnny Lewis), who has a subplot involving the hot Jesse (Kristen Hager) and her jock boyfriend Dale (David Paetkau). Also returning to town that very day is soldier Kelly (Reiko Aylesworth), who reunites with her husband Tim (Sam Trammell) and daughter Molly (Ariel Gade). Then there is… ugh. I’m bored just writing this out. AVP at least gave us a team of characters. What the hell do we need all these various subplots for? All we need is Dallas. And why make Dallas an ex-con returning to town? Shouldn’t that have something to do with something? Shouldn’t the first person to go missing be someone Dallas used to have a beef with? So he would be a suspect? Isn’t that usually the reason you make a hero a criminal who just showed up in town? So the townspeople blame him for all the weird goings-on caused by the monsters? And two different heroes returning to town at the exact same time? That’s just weird. Though I can take Dallas and Kelly. It is Ricky and Jesse’s storyline that wastes the most time. If the entirety of their subplot had been cut and replaced by Cleaner Predator scenes, this movie could have been something. And don’t even get me started on the wacky stoner characters who show up for one scene and then suddenly die. I was positive they must be the directors making a cameo (which I would accept), but they aren’t.
The set-up for AVPR is similar to the set-up for Critters. But in Critters our human heroes immediately team up with the interstellar bounty hunters (playing it all for laughs). Despite the fact that Cleaner Predator wants to kill all the xenomorphs, AVPR tries to keep the character as a villain too. That the Predator isn’t super concerned with preventing collateral damage on the humans is fine, but it doesn’t jibe trying to make the character a true threat too. He’s on our side ultimately. The film should have played around with that more instead of trying to keep the Predator as a menace. Because Cleaner Predator is the film’s actual hero. He has a mission, an agenda, long before any of the heroes do. He’s kicking ass and doing cool shit while Dallas and Ricky are looking for a pair of fucking keys that Ricky lost down a sewer drain. A structure like this works fine when the baton gets passed, like in, say, Marathon Man — where a bad ass dies early on, forcing a non-badass to become badass. But no baton get passed here; Cleaner is co-existing with our “heroes,” continuing to be more interesting and proactive then they are. So you just wait impatiently for the film to get through scenes with the heroes and back to Cleaner killing Aliens. And whereas AVP kept getting more interesting as it brought the humans and Predators closer together, culminating in our hero teaming with a Predator, AVPR is the exact opposite. Just when some really exciting twist or plot escalation should be hitting us in Act III the film instead becomes increasingly tedious as Cleaner Predator gets marginalized. This is definitely a flaw of the AVP subseries. Freddy vs Jason worked as a concept, because Freddy and Jason were competing to see who could terrify and kill the most humans. The Predators want to kill the Aliens, and the Aliens want to kill whatever. Humans don’t fit into this equation. The humans are just trying to not die, which, given our options, makes the Predators’ motivation the most interesting of the three species.
While I actually like quite a bit of what the Strause Brothers do in the film (little bits like a xenomorph crawling upside down along the bottom of a catwalk, while Cleaner Predator obliviously stalks along the top), they repeatedly bury the lead throughout. Cleaner Predator is awesome. But you need to dig for the awesomeness. You need to be like me, writing a series like Franchise Me, looking for it. The film itself briskly shoves its way through everything. It is a great idea to have Cleaner Predator leave Dallas as bait for the xenomorphs, but Dallas is caught and strung up and the xenomorphs arrive so quickly, that you kind of lose any sense of what just happened. It might as well not have happened at all. Much of Cleaner Predator’s uniqueness gets lost in the shuffle — particularly his usage of his handgun. I would have liked to highlight how unusual the Predator becoming a gunslinger is, which needed to be done in shot compositions and the handling of the action. As it is, it comes across as merely the Predator using one of his many weapons, like he always does.
And the film isn’t even completely consistent with the character either. What is great about the idea of Cleaner Predator is that he is trying to be discreet. He wants to kill the xenomorphs, cover his tracks and the evidence, then get the fuck out of Dodge. But this logic is flushed completely down the toilet early on when the Predator kills a deputy who witnesses the Predator destroying evidence (a cool scene actually) and then skins the deputy and hangs him from a tree, Predator-style. So…um…huh? Cleaner Predator flew across the galaxy to cover up all evidence of xenomorph/Predator activity. And then Cleaner Predator leaves behind a body? Why the hell didn’t he destroy the deputy’s corpse with his super goo? That was rhetorical. He did it because the filmmakers wanted to include that bit of Predator iconography in the film. Ugh. Even stupider than this is the scene in which Cleaner Predator saves Kelly and her daughter from some asshole, blowing the guy’s head off. WHY?! What does Cleaner Predator care? He’s just drawing attention to himself, and at no other point in the film does he give a shit about protecting humans. His motivations are all over the place, which just further muddles the audience’s ability/desire to see that a novel characterization is happening on screen.
The film’s cinematography is almost imperceptibly dark throughout the film. At some points it is hard to even tell what the hell is going on, not because of the editing, but simply because everything is a dark, murky blur.
Predator Kills: 5
Xenomorph Kills: 22, plus a copious amount of ambiguous and implied National Guard and screaming citizen deaths during Act III.
Best Kill: I really enjoyed seeing the female love interest get brutally nailed to the wall unexpectedly by the Predator’s super-ninja-star.
Best Scene: The Predator arriving on Earth, suiting up, and putting all the pieces together.
Best Line: Not applicable. Certainly not the “Get to the chopper” call-back.
Best Predator Weapon: The all purpose evidence-destroying glowing-blue super goo that somehow knows to disintegrate a whole corpse and the clothes on the corpse’s body (or en entire swimming pool full of water and corpses), but nothing else touching said corpse.
Evidence That the Predator is a Lousy Hunter: Giving his position away by saving Kelly. You’re trying to be discrete fool!
Should There Be a Sequel: You know what… yes. I feel like we’re now ready for an AVP movie in which the humans are simply background. I want a Predator protagonist! Or at least a full-on human/Predator buddy cop film. I most certainly do not care to see what happened to Adrien Brody’s character after the conclusion of Predators. So our only other option would be another reboot.
The Predator species is unique and compelling, which is why the character itself endures despite the fact that the Predator franchise is just lousy — frankly one of the worst franchises out there, proportional to its mainstream viability and level of awareness. The series effectively died after only one sequel (due to studio mishandling), and has likely already died again after an attempted reboot. The AVP films are really their own thing, and they’re by-and-large viewed as a failure by existing franchise fans. So, as it stands, despite the fertile sequelability of this franchise, the original Predator stands among films like Jaws, that feel essentially disconnected from their sequels. We’ll never know what would have happened if the studio had pressed onwards with a Predator 3, instead of shelving the franchise in favor of a crossover Alien film. But I have to wonder if part of the problem is that the Predator is too interesting for his own good.
It is easy to sequel a mindless character like Jason, or a gimmicky character like Freddy. But, while ostensibly the Predator is just a big monster, the specifics of the character’s background let us know that he is from an alien race far more advanced than ours. And in some ways the franchise has always been at odds with that, wanting to keep the creature as, well, just a creature; a silent monster. Case in point: we never get subtitled scenes of the Predators speaking to one another, even when they’re not around humans. Now, granted, this might come off as silly. But this is my point entirely. Where do we go with the character? How do we expand upon the character in an organic fashion? You can’t really “get to know” Jason. That handicap made the sequels’ formula simple. When getting to know a franchise’s villain is possible, that is generally where the sequels move — like Hannibal Lector or the Saw series (or even Hostel). But would audiences actually want a Predator sequel like that? One that started to move into V or Planet of the Apes territory, or I don’t even know what? You or I might dig it, but that might be too far out for the average Predator fan. And obviously Fox can’t just keep having a Predator come to Earth and hunt some humans; that was already boring by Predator 2. So the franchise is kind of stuck, holding the Predator at arm’s length, afraid to embrace the character. This, I think, is why the Predator has (relatively speaking) floundered in cinema but succeeded in comics and spin-off novels, where authors have the fringe freedom to explore the species.
Franchise ranked from best to worst:
Predator 2 | Alien vs Predator
Aliens vs Predator: Requiem
Up Next: Back to the Future
previous franchises battled
Planet of the Apes