Monday, July 12, 2010

Movie Review: Predators

So far, this has been a fairly disappointing summer. It pains me to say it, but so far the summer studio offerings have been a failure. We got things off to a clumsy start with the Iron Man 2 misfire, only to be followed by the "Meh, it isn't terrible but what's the point?" of Robin Hood, Jake Gyllenhaal playing an Iranian, and the mildly satisfying A-Team which was just wacky enough to make us overlook the fact that it was a brainless action movie remake of an 80's TV series. Throw in sequels in the much-loathed Shrek and Twilight franchises and one has a perfect storm of cinematic mediocrity.

All of these movies deserve to be dropped onto an alien world and hunted for sport by eight-foot-tall dreadlocked monsters.

Predators may not be the most original entry in this summer's movie season, but that shouldn't diminish its worth. It is a sequel/spin-off to the much beloved Arnold Schwarzenegger classic from 1987 and follows the naming rubrick of the Alien franchise (pluralize the second entry in the series, cube the third, resurrect the fourth, et cetera). On top of this, it's produced by Robert Rodriguez, a filmmaker known for doing more with less and for having an original vision. Sounds pretty good, right?

Could this be the cure to the summer doldrums? Only if you've always wanted to see a Predator/katana fight, which you should.

Predators' premise is simple. Whereas the first movie (we shan't discuss Predator 2) dealt with an American black ops team being stalked by the titular creature in Central America, Predators has a group of soldiers, mercenaries, killers, and Eric Forman abducted and brought to a jungle planet, in essence a Predator game preserve. Once there, they are set loose and forced to fight for their lives against not one Predator, but many: a multi-Predator.

The cast is solid and fairly inspired, being led by tough-as-nails merc Adrien Brody of all people. Most people scoffed and sniggered when Brody was cast; how does a franchise go from having the Terminator to the Pianist as a lead? Nevertheless, the actor best known for a Holocaust drama comes through. He's clearly bulked up for the role and plays the tough guy part convincingly, and of course in a movie like this that's pretty much what matters most. Between this and Splice, Brody's genre chops are pretty solid. Good for him.

Character development is pretty minimal in this one, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in a film series whose focus is aliens ripping out people's spines. Every character is given basically one trait: Brody is jaded, the hot IDF sniper (apparently the Israeli military is comprised solely of beautiful women, Theodor Herzl was on to something!) is traumatized from watching her spotter die, the Spetsnaz mini-gunner misses his kids, Danny Trejo is Machete, the yakuza is mute etc. When you think about it though, these characters only exist so one Predator or another can flay them alive, so the fact that they don't have very good emotional arcs isn't entirely important.

There are several nods to the original, which is always appreciated in a movie like this, and it never quite descends into pandering to fans of the original. Though regrettably, no one ever utters my favorite line from Jesse "The Mind" Ventura.

I'll take whatever I can get, I suppose.

There are only a few new elements introduced in Predators to the series' mythology, such as different Predator races who are at war with each other as well as Predator hunting dogs which are pretty cool, but besides those scant new introductions not much is added; it is still basically Predator in a different setting with a different cast. Oh, and Larry Fishburne shows up as a survivor who's been on the game preserve planet for a decade. He's pretty awesome, even if his screen time is minimal.

And most importantly, practical effects are generally valued over CGI. Always a plus.

Even though we've basically seen this before, Predators delivers an entertaining night at the movies with enough ultraviolence and cursing to make you think Ronald Reagan is still president. Even if it is just a throwback, its better than anything else in cineplexes right now. Well, until Inception comes out.

Final verdict: 53 Congos