Of all the popular ‘80s movies to be resurrected over the years, John McTiernan’s 1987 cult classic Predator ranks up there for flop potential. As is so often the case, none of the subsequent attempts to capture the magic of Arnie’s original rumble in the jungle with a curiously Rastafarian-looking alien killing machine have come close to making the grade. After an unimpressive sequel with Danny Glover, and two disappointing crossover films with the Alien franchise, it seems the best attempt at following up Predator is also the most recent, in the form of 2010’s Predators, directed by the exquisitely named Nimród Antal and based off a story by producer Robert Rodriguez.
The movie opens up already in freefall. Thankfully, it’s leading man Royce (Adrien Brody) literally falling through the sky, and not the continued metaphorical fall of the franchise as a whole. At the last second, his parachute opens, and offers an improbable save from certain death.
As Royce gathers his wits, he’s quickly met in similar fashion by a ragtag band of violent and volatile companions, none of whom know where they are or why they were brought here. In quick succession, we meet Isabelle (Alice Braga) of the IDF, Russian special forces soldier Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), American death row inmate (and purveyor of various unsavory acts) Stans (Walton Goggins), African death squad militia member Mombasa (Mahershala Ali), Mexican drug cartel enforcer Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), Japanese Yakuza member Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), and Edwin (Topher Grace), a doctor. Award yourself ten bonus points if you spotted the odd one out in that exhaustive list.
As well as forewarning us just how little character development there will be in this movie, all the arrival action works itself out remarkably quickly. After the initial confusion and shooting at each other, everyone bizarrely settles into a system whereby Royce takes over as leader, while Isabelle becomes his trusty second-in-command, and the rest toe the line with remarkably little trouble, given we’re talking about a set of folks we might generously describe as anti-authority. Perhaps it’s down to Royce’s commanding jawline and “could care less” persona, or perhaps the directors are just keen to usher us on to the alien jungle hunting action. On the latter grounds, I’d have to say they made the right decision.
The gang realizes that their group hasn’t come together out of coincidence, and Royce, upon finding the traps and remains of another soldier, correctly surmises that they’re being hunted. The group heads to higher ground and comes to a cliff edge, where they realize they’re truly in unchartered territory, as a horizon with several unfamiliar planets unfolds directly in front of them.
The movie accelerates rapidly from here as the group gets attacked by the alien equivalent of hunting dogs, designed to split them up and flush them out of the jungle. They fight off most of the beasts, but Cuchillo is caught and the others respond to his cries for help. But Royce quickly realizes it’s a trap, and there’s nothing they can do to help him. Isabelle decides to shoot the Mexican drug man to put him out of his misery, but his cries for help continue even after his death, showing just how crafty those pesky Predators can be.
Fighting the inclination to run, Royce leads everyone back along the tracks of the retreating space dogs, where they find the alien hunting camp, complete with dripping carcasses and unidentifiable remains (not unlike a walk around Chinatown, in fact). They come face-to-face with a Predator, tied up to a pole and seemingly here to be sacrificed. Getting up close and personal, they realize that he’s actually just taking an enforced and uncomfortable nap, at which time three Predators show up to unleash an attack that relieves Mombasa of his internal organs. Two down, six to go.
The remaining six escape this encounter by leaping over a waterfall and down into the rapids below, after which Isabelle confronts Royce for leading them into a trap. Royce suddenly realizes she knows exactly what they’re up against, and she relates a legend of a man taking on an alien which basically describes Arnie’s earlier adventures in Guatemala, including how he covered himself in mud to hide himself from the aliens’ enhanced vision (which for some reason no one seems to consider doing in this encounter).
It’s not long before they stumble across another Predator, but this one approaches to stare them down, and in one of the movie’s genuinely unexpected moments, the Predator takes off its mask to reveal… Laurence Fishburne! His cameo here is as a survivor named Noland, who’s somehow evaded slaughter for many hunting seasons, and he gives the group some background on the Predators, including how they hunt in threes and have a spaceship near the camp. Royce comes up with the implausible notion of having the imprisoned Predator fly them home, which is ridiculed by Noland, as well as all the multiple personalities he’s developed after years of isolation on the planet.
As they all sleep, Noland betrays the group, stealing their gear, and forcing Royce to attract the Predators as their only way out of the abandoned ship he uses as a hideout. They duly oblige, blowing up Noland but pursuing the remaining humans and killing both Stans and Nikolai. The Russian gives his life to save Edwin, and blows one of the three Predators sky high in the process, while Hanzo takes out another Predator in a gloriously overblown sword fight that’s more trite than it is Tarantino. The Yakuza, too, is killed in this “take one for the team” encounter.
As the remaining three flee, Edwin is caught in a trap and incapacitated. It’s here that the director attempts a quick shot at morality, as Royce shows no compunction in leaving the doctor behind to draw the Predators away from them, but Isabelle simply can’t abandon him.
It turns out she should have, as the movie’s worst kept secret is revealed: Edwin is no doctor, but rather a serial killer with a deep knowledge of tortuous drugs, who proceeds to use a paralyzing neurotoxin on her. What his plans are, we don’t know, but there is some half-baked attempt to suggest that he’s now at home here with the “monsters”, none of which makes much sense, as they’re sure to kill him either way.
Meanwhile, Royce attempts to escape with the captured Predator, but the remaining hunting Predator destroys his ship. This leaves Royce to return to Isabelle, where he stabs Edwin in the throat when he realizes he’s up to no good.
This leaves only our (anti)hero and the final Predator, who then have a battle of wits that sees Royce setting fires as his version of Arnold’s “magic mud”, confusing the Predator’s infrared vision long enough for him to get in several blows. But then the alien switches his view to one that tracks Royce’s heartbeat, allowing him to find him and start raining down the pain.
Just as the Predator is about to deal the death blow, however, Isabelle regains enough strength to shoot her sniper rifle and give Royce time to decapitate their final foe. As they limp off into the jungle, more parachutes are seen opening, and the scene is set for another sequel (already in the works from Iron Man 3 director Shane Black).
Of course, there are plenty of unanswered character questions in Predators, as the movie understandably favors pace and power over personality. Why would the Predators bring serial killers to this planet, for example, when they’re presumably looking for a more well-trained challenge? Neither Stans nor Edwin present any real threat to the Predators throughout, save for a brief stabbing incident that results in Stans’ spine being unceremoniously ripped from his body. And how did Noland survive for ten hunting seasons without being found, when there’s power radiating from the abandoned ship he calls home?
To ask questions of a movie like this misses the point entirely, however. When you start off with almost every character introduced within a couple of minutes and you’re anticipating alien killing action from the outset, why would there be any great attempt at logic or character development? The point is to build tension and release it in grandiose bouts of Predator bloodletting, which Antal certainly achieves in this outing. The hunted are mostly one-dimensional, but the hunters are shown in all their glory and look fearsome as they track their prey.
All of which makes the weak effort to explain the presence of Edwin, or the limited attempts to establish lines of human morality through Isabelle and Royce appear pointless. It distracts from the main point of the movie, which is to pay homage to the qualities of the original in a new setting.
Against that goal, taking time out to establish any level of depth is as futile as trying to stab a Predator to death with a shiv. Little thought goes into such an action and that’s exactly how a movie like Predators should be watched: high on reaction, low on contemplation, and all the better for it.