When Robert Rodriguez agreed to produce a new chapter in the PREDATOR series, he vowed to deliver something that audiences had never seen, not to be bound by what had gone before, but to create a whole new world for these creatures to do battle with the human race. What has emerged, under the directorial guidance of Nimrod Antal, is a writhing thrashing beast of a movie torn between being something new and exciting, yet still weighed down by a legacy that has been quite unnecessarily upheld.
Eight strangers fall from the sky, crashing to the ground in a dense jungle wilderness. No sooner have they collected themselves together, this rag tag ensemble of soldiers, mercenaries and gangsters find they are under attack from unseen hunters. It soon becomes apparent that they have been transported far from their own planet and are part of an elaborate game in which they are the prizes. Only by banding together will they stand any chance of surviving this ordeal and returning to Earth
While the setup - men in jungle vs. unseen predator - may on the surface appear to be similar to that of John McTiernan's 1987 original, this band of warriors are no smooth operating team of seasoned professionals. Audiences today are all too familiar with seeing mismatched groups of strangers forced to cooperate to accomplish common goals, and as such, only scant characterization is deemed necessary by the writers. Characters are not even given names, and are identifiable only by their most instantly recognizable qualities. So we get Danny Trejo's Mexican gangster, Louis Ozawa Changchien's Yakuza, Walton Goggins' convict, Topher Grace's doctor - and who they may be beyond these stereotypes is irrelevant. Suffice to say, they don't get on.
Sadly PREDATORS is not nearly as adventurous as it claims to be and early sequences such as an attack by a pack of alien dogs, give way to an overriding need for the script to keep hitting the same action beats as the original film. No sooner has the team assembled itself than any viewer with half a brain will correctly determine exactly which characters will die and which will survive, which order they will meet their end and even in certain cases, the nature of their deaths. In its weakest moment, the film even feels the need to directly reference the incident that took place in Guatemala in 1987 and clue in the characters with exactly what kind of foe they are up against. This entirely unnecessary moment of deus ex machina exposition completely neuters all tension in the film - and only by bringing in new characters and ramping up the violence in the second half can PREDATORS save itself from disaster. Which to some degree it manages.
Adrien Brody may lack the hulking physical presence of Schwarzenegger, or even Danny Glover, but his mercenary-turned-reluctant-leader is a pretty nasty selfish piece of work, far removed from the wisecracking lads of PREDATOR. He has no qualms about sacrificing or abandoning any or all members of his party in order to save himself and is a self-proclaimed "hunter of men" whose fall from grace happened long before he was abducted to this far-flung corner of the galaxy. Alice Braga's black ops soldier represents the closest the group has to a conscience, but while she is a more than competent operator of high caliber weaponry, her presence is never entirely justified other than the need for films like this to fairly represent all gender and racial demographics.
Which brings us to Changchien's Yakuza, a character who contributes little to the proceedings before commandeering the film completely for one glorious moment of science-fiction samurai revisionism. While I will be the first to admit that this scene has absolutely no place being in the film, it is in and of itself my outright favourite scene. The rest of the crew are either there simply to make up the numbers or criminally under-written. Goggins' death row inmate comes across as annoying rather than psychotic, while another character bows to that classic war movie cliché of showing off a photograph of his children, only to inevitably meet his demise scant few moments later.
Laurence Fishburne's appearance midway through gives the film a much-needed lift before the third act finally shifts into high gear and the humans and predators clash with predictably sticky, spine-ripping results. Although even then, one character in particular makes a completely illogical volte face that serves no purpose other than to confuse audiences as much as his allies.
PREDATORS works best when it allows itself to evolve and take its great concept - desperate humans marooned on the predators' custom made game reserve - and run with it. All too often however the film seemed to shy away from its new creations, only fleetingly showing off the new creature and predator designs, as if in fear of offending or upsetting its fanbase, when the reality is quite the opposite. Where it falls down time and again is in its insistence on paying homage to a film series legacy that never really existed in the first place. Back in 1990's PREDATOR 2, that film was at its weakest when it was mirroring sequences from its predecessor. Here, Antal, Rodriguez et al feel compelled to do the same again, while throwing in nods to AVP and even ALIENS along the way, to increasingly annoying and disheartening effect.
There is certainly some fun to be had with PREDATORS. Brody is an intriguingly flawed hero, Fishburne's wildman survivor is another highlight, and there are some gruesome kills along the way. The opening act is a well-staged slow burn, while the middle often feels plodding and uneven. Antal goes all-in for the rampagingly messy climax but he is left juggling too many characters and the finale never truly satisfies. The decision to use Little Richard's Long Tall Sally over the end credits only underscores the overwhelming desire to please one final time, rather than just getting down to business and telling a story that makes any kind of sense.