One can only expect so much from a film called Predators. But sometimes having tempered expectations is the best way to experience a movie, and a genre sequel like this certainly benefits from that approach. Predators is easily an improvement over the sub-par entries in the series since the original and is unquestionably the best film involving Predators since McTiernan and Schwarzenegger stomped through Mexico back in 1987.
Director: Nimrod Antal
Starring: Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Laurence Fishburne, Walton Goggins
Producer Robert Rodriguez's guiding hand can be felt all over this film, shot beautifully in a mixture of locations including Hawaii, on stages at Rodriguez's Troublemaker Studios in Austin, Texas, and the surrounding Texas landscape. The production designers were able to capture an alien environment that truly separates itself from the lush jungles of McTiernan's original movie. It's a shame that director Nimrod Antal isn't getting much recognition for this film, since I think it's a competent and entertaining entry into the franchise, but it would appear that Fox is content with using Rodriguez's name as a selling point. That's a fair tactic, considering the history of this project; Rodriguez actually wrote a script back in the mid-1990s which was abandoned by the studio, who eventually returned to it in 2009 and decided to move forward with it. Rewritten by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, Predators feels very much like a Rodriguez movie in that it looks way more expensive than it actually cost.
The ensemble cast hearkens back to the original film, and is rounded out by some actors one might not expect in a film like this. Adrien Brody plays the lead character of Royce, a gruff soldier who is a polar opposite of Brody's vulnerable con man in 2009's The Brothers Bloom. While I'd argue Brody never truly gets comfortable in this role, he (like the film as a whole) is not particularly exhilarating to watch but is competent in his execution. Recent science fiction maven Alice Braga (I Am Legend, Repo Men) plays one of the most independent women in an action film in the past few years, embodying Isabelle - her sniper character - with a sense of confidence and ability that easily rises above damsel in distress status. The rest of the supporting cast is rounded out by solid character actors: Walton Goggins, Danny Trejo, Topher Grace, even an Apocalypse Now-inspired cameo by Laurence Fishburne.
By now some of you are surely wondering about the Predators themselves: how do they fare here? The scope of the extraterrestrial hunters has been expanded to dog-like creatures as well as multiple races of Predator, allowing for some non-human conflict to accentuate the horrifying scenario in which the humans are placed. If you signed up for brutal violence, you shouldn't be disappointed: an alien-on-alien beheading and a removal of someone's spinal column are grisly highlights in the film. There is an interesting twist involving the multiple races of Predator, pitting one against the other and mixing human interaction in as well. They are still, as Arnold once called them, "ugly motherf*cker[s]," but the designs have been slightly updated for the new millennium (although not so much as to anger hardcore fans of the series).
The Blu-ray special features are pretty extensive, spotlighted by a really cool "making of" featurette detailing the production process and giving an inside look at the sets, both on location in Hawaii and at Troublemaker Studios. The coolest parts revealed how Antal and his director of photography were able to shoot the actors tumbling over the edge of a waterfall in Hawaii: the camera was on a bungee cord pointing down at the water and as actors plunged out into space, the camera followed them down as they hurtled 80 feet down and crashed into twelve feet of water. Some of the actors seemed to do their own stunts, but even if they were stunt men, the footage was definitely worth seeing and was a great insight as to how they accomplished such an impressive shot. Along with the typical special features you'd expect to find (commentary, deleted and extended scenes, etc.), there are also six motion comics detailing the backstories of many of the major characters, which are voiced by the actual cast members from the film. I didn't find them particularly enthralling, but if you're into that kind of thing, you'll probably enjoy them.
Overall, you could do a lot worse than Predators if you're looking for a decent sci-fi action film. There is some impressive cinematography (a slick sword battle shot from above comes to mind), and definitely enough action to keep you involved in the story. The pacing moves quickly and rarely gives you time to concentrate on any negative aspects of the story. This is definitely a spiritual sequel to the McTiernan movie and will almost certainly spawn direct sequels of its own, but this film was enough to get me interested in the direction of the franchise. Sign me up for the next entry. Until next time...