Sunday, July 11, 2010

Come on into the Party - Predators Explosively Fun

Warning: Spoilers
(spoilage factor: about the same as any food in the pocket of a character who's parachute didn't open)

From the opening seconds where we (and the characters) plunge into the film and the gatling gun starts roaring, to its closing ass-kicking, Predators is a rollicking, bloody, summer popcorn flick.

The movie opens with the characters (accompanied by a blast of Alan Silvestri music right out of the first, Schwarzennegarian installment in the franchise), an assortment of badasses from around the world, plummeting into an alien jungle. After a round of near-fatal introductions, it's off into the woods where they gradually discover they're on another world in a game preserve where they're one of the main attractions for a trio of interstellar hunters (and their dogs!). The story takes a slight turn from the usual franchise formula when the humans wander into the hunters' encampment and discover a live Predator captive tied up. They later meet Lawrence Fishburn, the somewhat mad lone survivor of a group of humans who had been kidnapped and brought to the hunting preserve years earlier, who explains there are actually two species of Predator (the first - allegedly smaller - varient being what we saw in the first movie, the second, much uglier, revealed later in this installment), that really don't get along with each other. As the hunt continues, it becomes obvious the humans are at risk from each other as much as they are from the Predators.

Like the original Predator (and there were plenty of allusions to that film), this third installment in the franchise is completely unpretentious. It's an action flick that's about a driving pace, the occasional laugh, and a rising body count. But while it doesn't bother with philosophy, Predators is not a completely stupid movie. Lawrence Fishburn proves that during his cameo when he mocks Adrien Brody for talking about hijacking the Predators' ship.

I also thought it was interesting they way the film touched on the notion of two different Predator breeds doing their best to kill each other. A very nice nod to the plot device in the four-issue Darkhorse comic Predator - Prey to the Heavens, where Predators from two different tribes (although these are not different physically, only posessing different armor - like gang colours) spend as much time and energy hunting each other as they do the humans in the war zone. Certainly it reflects what Brody's character is talking about when he references Hemmingway's comment about men who kill men. But beyond that, with the significant facial differences, and Fishburn's comment about their sizes (although this was not apparent), it made me wonder if they were hinting at something similar to a human-Neanderthal split but where both species had survived and thrived alongside one another - sort of along the lines of what Londo mentioned in an episode of Babylon 5 where he recalls the wars between the Centauri and the Zan on his homeworld.

As far as special effects and action sequences go, there are lots of great ones to choose from. My favourite was where the Yakuza assassin and one of the Predators square off - kind of a tribute to Billy's last stand in the original. Very simple compared to the other special effect-laden fight sequences, but very, very cool.

Very nice job on the world-building details too. Pay close attention at the end when the camera's showing shots of the Predators' camp - you may notice the elongated, black skull of an Alien impaled on the top of a tree.

If there are weaknesses in this movie, one was the pretense of concealing the true nature of Topher Grace's character from the other humans. Seriously, if the audience (well, anyone in the audience who was paying attention, anyway) could pick up fairly early on what he was all about, the other characters, who, as seasoned soldiers and killers have to quickly assess people and situations in order to survive, would probably have figured him out early on, called him out, and dealt with him appropriately. Okay, Brody's character might have gotten a handle on Topher early on and just been playing along because it was in some way useful, but the others sure didn't.

Another was when Alice Braga's character, a special forces soldier, references the events of the first movie. That, in and of itself, was cool. But at the same time, it made me wonder what someone with a high-enough clearance to know about the Arnie incident in Guatamala would be doing still working as a field operative. And moreover, if she knew about that incident, why not go whole hog and have her reference Danny Glover's dust-up in LA in the second movie? Minor quibbling, I know, but something they could easily have remedied.

The last shortcoming in Predators: a total absence of memorable one-liners. In classic Schwarzenneger shoot-em-up flick style, the original had lots of great, cheesy action dialogue like "If it bleeds, we can kill it." or "Stick around!" (after a knife impales an enemy soldier), or "If you lose it here, you're in a world of hurt", the classic "I'll be back", or "Come on into the party - ol' Painless is waiting!". This one? Nothing.

But in the end, Predators is what it is, a summer action movie. Because it does a great job of delivering the action and doesn't try to pretend to be anything else, it's well worth watching. Admittedly, we got to see the movie for free (a slight hiccup in the reel during Iron Man 2 a couple of weeks ago netted us free passes, which we used tonight) but coming out of the local bazillionplex, I can say I would have been happy to pay full price.
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