More noise than signal

Alien vs Predator

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

Cinematically at least, once space year 2004 rolled around the Predator franchise was dead, and after several reported false starts, the Alien franchise was dead too, or at least doing a good impersonation of it. So, at least one of the reasons for the wailing and gnashing of teeth from film fans about the announcement of this mash-up always felt a little hollow to me – if there’s no realistic hope of a “real” entry, why not take what you can get with the lefftovers?

Secondly, while I’m not a superfan of either franchise, even I knew about the extended universe Aliens vs Predator stuff, either as novels, comics or most relevantly, video games, and the latter at least provided some proof of concept that this could provide some degree of schlock fun, if not something that’s going to get a lot of Oscar buzz. I don’t think I’d say I’d been looking forward to Aliens vs Predator, but at the very least I didn’t discount it out of hand. At least, not until the magic words Paul W.S. Anderson were uttered.

Anyway, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Alien vs Predator sees a Weyland Corporation satellite spotting a mysterious heat bloom in Antarctica, with initial scans finding something even more mysterious. There seems to be an exceptionally odd pyramid buried far underneath the ice. So Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) rounds up a crew of what we’ll call experts to investigate this.

Amongst the security personnel and drilling crew are Weyland’s majordomo Maxwell Stafford (Colin Salmon, the early 2000’s Idris Elba), experienced, no-nonsense guide Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), archeologist Sebastian de Rosa (Raoul Bova), and chemical engineer Graeme Miller (Ewen Bremner). There are many other people, but I wouldn’t want to name them. No point getting attached to them.

They’re not the only ones interested in the pyramid, as an orbiting Predator space ship blasts a space laser through the ice just before Team Weyland show up, giving them a helpful clear run down to the pyramid. Not ones to look a gift mineshaft in whatever the mineshaft analogue of a mouth is, they batter on down and start poking around, piecing together enough of the mishmash of Mayan, Atzec, Egyptian and Belgian hieroglyphs to give us a sudden exposition dump.

This is some prime Von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods / Ancient Aliens garbage, with the Predators apparently having convinced each of the aforementioned civilisations to treat them as gods, including building pyramids housing an Alien Queen to serve as a challenge to young Predator warriors as a rite of passage, like a xenomorph infested Crystal Maze, or Krypton Factor, or Fort Boyard, or Wipeout, select reference as appropriate to your age group. Of course, you can’t hunt xenomorphs without xenomorphs, hence the human sacrifice aspect of the cultures, but it’s death via facehugger and burst chests, not a priest’s blade that’s the order of the day in these triangular funhouses.

Having figured all of this out, our gang now realise that the human sacrifice this time is, well, them, the urgency of which stops them asking why this pyramid in particular is a combination of the different architecture styles, and none of the other pyramids we’ve found are, but this is one of the many things that it’s best not to worry too much about in Aliens vs Predator.

Very soon, we’ve got Xenos aplenty, and three Predators show up to test their mettle against them, with the surviving human interlopers really just trying to beat feet out of there as best they can, hindered by a shifting, reconfiguring structure that divides them, allowing the Xenos to conquer.

Not that the Predators get things all their own way either, once all is said and done leaving one Predator survivor and Alexa to desperately battle the Alien Queen, who has escaped her oddly low-tech shackles and reached the surface, which would be bad news for us humans.

I have a confession to make, and you’re not going to like it. While I think it’s very important to state that AvP is not at all good, I kind of enjoyed it – certainly more than my review a decade-plus ago would have you believe, although I think most of that is based around the proximity of watching the po-faced Prometheus and Covenant films. This is pure stupid schlock action, and with expectations calibrated accordingly it’s possible to find some joy in this.

It’s normally at this point that I back that opinion up with some sort of facts or reasoning, although in this instance I’m not sure that I can. I really like the pyramid setting, and the whole reconfiguring gimmick works well. Most of the cast, and certainly the featured cast do pretty well, particularly Sanaa Lathan who’s no Ripley, for sure, but much more likeable than Katherine Waterston in Alien: Covenant.

Special shout-out to one of the few instances of a chemical engineer, God’s chosen ones, in a film, although like all other films with chemical engineers in it, it has no idea what a chemical engineer does. Can hardly blame them, I studied it for four years and worked as one since the dawn of this millennium and would struggle to put together a job description in a neat sentence.

The action sequences I find serviceable, perhaps more for the concept than the execution. The whole “dream match” thing is, undeniably, something us nerds wanted to see, although, had any of us stopped to properly think about it, it’s not something that was ever likely to sustain a feature film. To give W.S. Anderson his due, this might be as good a film as anyone could make of the idea, barring the obvious onward march of CGI capability.

That’s not to say that it’s actually a good film, mind. I happy to say that it’s an enjoyable film, as a side project to two franchises that I’m very fond of, but I must recognise that it’s living off goodwill that it did not accrue by itself. Still, it’s lack of pretension when compared to the more recent Aliens films does make this seem like a breath of fresh, or at least comfortingly stale air. Maybe time to re-evaluate, if you hated it on first view, but I’d still hesitate to give it more than a highly caveated recommendation.