Even before the two were co-mingled in a cinematic bastardization of a video game, I associated Ridley Scott’s Alien with John McTiernan’s Predator; both are slow-burn cat-and-mouse games between man and some beast he can’t begin to comprehend, and more relevently, both now feature sequels in the plural taking place on the monster’s homeplanet. The problem, of course, is that cat-and-mouse games don’t work when there’s a planet full of cats and just a few teeny weeny mice, which is why Aliens works so well—James Cameron’s plot isn’t “How do we kill them” but rather “How do we survive long enough to get off this hellhole?” And that’s where Nimrod Antal’s Predators falls short—despite Royce’s (Adrien Brody) special ops platoon landing pell-mell on a Predator-infested planet they’re utterly unfamiliar with, most manage to survive until the third act without a scratch. The excuse for this, as Royce explains in one of several commando-overlord speaches, is that they’re the Predators’ game; it seems the monsters hunt for trophies, not food, so despite that there’s a Predator cuddled up in every tree, lake, mud puddle and abandoned spaceship, none of them would dare cheaply kill any of the humans.
The movie starts in a burst of light, with Royce freefalling onto the alien planet from some unknown spacecraft. After landing he meets up with a requisite team of rote misfits that’s plagued every lazy screenwriter’s pages since the early nineties; Isabella (Alice Braga), the compassionate female lead, Stans (Walton Goggins), the sex-starved douchy guy who finally graduated from the frat house to the big house, Edwin (Topher Grace), the weinery nice guy, Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a quiet Asian who sword-fights, and Danny Trejo, who needs no reason to be in any movie because he kicks every other actor’s ass. United, the band wander off across the Predatory plains where they’re attacked by all varieties of CGI canine and dreadlocked monstrosities. Lawrence Fishburne eventually shows up as a crazed scavenger in a predator battle mask, but his sequence does little more than slow things down and beef up the movie’s scant hour and forty minute runtime. The few survivors eventually seek out an alien spacecraft in order to escape, a search which triggers an epic battle pitting predator and man against—are you ready for it—wait for it—wait for it—SuperPredator. No shit. In a move somewhat akin to James Cameron’s Alien Queen, Nimrod created his very own Premium Predator Species as a means of spicing things up, and spice them up it does. The first half of this battle almost justifies the smudgy, horrible CGI witnessed in the film’s first act, and its later half, pitting SuperPredator against man in a scene reminicent of the original Predator, is straight-up thrilling.
Don’t get me wrong—there’s a lot of stupid crap in Predators that isn’t worth your time. As previously alluded to, Hanzo sword fights a predator. These creatures have laser-controlled mine-bombs that explode anything they touch. They can shoot energy beams from their fists. If the first film was any indication, they have nuclear weapons wedged somewhere in their bodies as a safeguard against defeat. There’s no reason for them to go at it bayonette-style on the battlefield. James Cameron’s Aliens was thrilling because it pitted a few human characters against a constant onslaught of hell-demons that literally raced through the woodwork of the planet; it established a bond between Ripley and Newt and played off audience’s sympathies for the lead from Alien. Predators just gives viewers some faceless mercs wandering in a jungle. Despite Fishburne’s ominous warning that “they always come in threes”, whenever the troupe eventually faces a predator, it’s never more than one at a time. There’s no character to care for, no sense of immediate and insurmountable danger—everyone on the planet is an asshole, and the predators are apparently too concerned with “hunter cred” to team up and easily kill them all. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare the two films, and perhaps Nimrod did the best he could with the material he was given; he must at least be lauded for not going the other route and giving audiences a 1:1 remake of Aliens with predators in the antagonist’s seat and Arnold at the helm. However, the fact that there are so many stealth-camo-enabled monsters and so few moments of spectacular action is shameful, and though the last fifteen minutes almost redeems the whole mess, it’s a long time getting there.