More noise than signal

Predators

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Adrien Brody’s Royce wakes up in the middle of a freefall, which must rank pretty low down on the list of preferred ways to awake. He plummets to the jungle floor, saved, sort of, by a strangely designed parachute, and finds he’s not the only one suffering that fate. In short order, he meets up with Mexican drug cartel enforcer Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), Russian Special Forces soldier Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), Israel Defense Forces sniper Isabelle (Alice Braga), Revolutionary United Front officer Mombasa (Mahershala Ali), Death row inmate Stans (Walton Goggins), Yakuza enforcer Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien) and, seemingly out of place, a doctor, Edwin (Topher Grace).

While understandably distrustful to begin with, they commendably quickly realise that the real enemy is the force that has dropped them wherever they are, and appear to be setting up to hunt them down. As you’ll expect given the theme of this podcast, said hunting is being done by a group of Predators, although as it’s explained to us later, a different clan than the Classic Predators of yore.

These new Super Predators, as we’re apparently to refer to them, have a few mildly different tricks in their repertoire, and look like a minor refinement to the original design, but I’ve got to be honest, with masks on I’d struggle to tell any of them apart, were it not for their different choice of trophy integrated into their armour, and even then, in the dark one’s not that much different to the others.

To an extent, you can apply the same plot recap for this as with the other Predator films, but there’s a twist to this. Once Royce and company figure out that they’re not on Earth, having all been abducted and taken to what’s effectively a game reserve cum safari ground, realising the only hope of escape is to go after Predators rather than play by their rules. This might not go exactly to plan, but it’s good to see that the label attached to these folks as being some of Earth’s deadliest warriors isn’t unearned.

In fact that’s something I’ve always appreciated about the mainline Predator films – the prey, if you will, never just start doing stupid things to move the plot forward, which is something pretty endemic in simiarly plotted slasher movies, in particular. In these films the idiot ball finds little purchase, and even the people we’re not meant to be particularly sympathetic to, like Gary Busey’s Tinfoil Team, aren’t being foolish, which helps sell the whole premise of the films.

As for Predators, I recall this coming out to middling reviews, and Drew’s review for the old website was more positive than most but still tending towards meh, so I was a little surprised to find myself half an hour into this and really, really enjoying it. A lot of that comes down to Adrien Brody, who despite bulking up a bit is still not the first name that springs to mind as an action star. Yet, he’s entirely convincing, even with a slightly daft gruff accent. Turns out having good actors in things films tends to improve them. Who’d have thunk it, etc.

The action is as well handled as any of the other films, arguably better, and the onward march of effects technology makes the Predator’s cloaking and assorted gizmos look better than ever. That said, it’s also made by film-makers that know that sometimes, there’s no substitute for just throwing some stunt workers down a steep hill, and so there’s a very effective mix of practical and computer effects work that makes for very enjoyable scenes.

The characterisation perhaps fares worse, with many of the cast just not getting enough lines to make much of an impact. It also seems like a waste of Larry Fishburne, who isn’t with us for long despite making a solid impression, even saddled with carrying the one section of the film where it drags somewhat. Despite this, and some, let’s politely say functional dialogue, the cast makes the most of what they’re given, and the central double act of Broady and Braga holds up well throughout the piece.

It’s by no means a perfect film – as mentioned the attempt at speciating Predators doesn’t work all that well for me, and there’s a not-even-a-twist towards the end that’s entirely infuriating that I don’t want to get too deep into as it’s a bit spoilery, except it’s perhaps the one example of the idiot ball returning in full force, even if there are extenuating, hunted by alien reasons to excuse it.

Yet, despite these niggles, I found this hugely enjoyable. It’s very much the same sort of move as between Alien and Aliens – brasher, bigger and more action focused, which some people took exception to, but is largely why I like this. With the caveat of having no clue how this will hold up to repeat viewing, at the moment I’d have to say that I enjoyed this almost as much as the original. Solid recommend.