Forget about the god-awful AVP: ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004) and its equally cheap-looking AVPR: ALIENS VS. PREDATOR - REQUIEM (2007) -- both movies that turned the once-lucrative franchise into cinematic embarrassment. Thanks to maverick producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal, PREDATORS is something of a real deal for die-hard fans have been waiting for -- a direct sequel to the 1987 original that cleverly ignored the event of 1990's PREDATOR 2 and two aforementioned spin-offs
The movie opens immediately with a bang: a Special Ops commando (Adrien Brody) wakes up and finds himself free-falling through the sky, and he is dropping fast. He struggles to open the chute, only to have it automatically unfold at the last minute before he hit over the branches of the tree and lands onto the ground of a thick jungle. As he regain from his consciousness, he finds more humans falling through the trees. First person he encounters is a a Los Zeta drug cartel enforcer from Baja named Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), before he subsequently meet the others -- Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), a Russian Special Forces soldier; Isabelle (Alice Braga), an IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) sniper; Edwin (Topher Grace), a physician; Stans (Walton Goggins), a famous mass-murderer who was on the FBI's 3rd most wanted list; Mombasa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a RUF (Revolutionary United Front) death squad officer from Sierra Leone; and Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a Yakuza hitman with few words. These motley group claim that they had previously encountered a blinding flash of light that ultimately brought them here in this nowhere jungle. Even for Isabelle, who claims she has seen a lot of jungles during her tour of duty, has never seen anything like it before. As they begin their treacherous walking journey along the jungle, they soon discover they are actually landed on a distant planet's game preserve where there are no escape in sight. Adding to the danger, is a small group of ruthless alien hunters eagerly to hunt them down.
From the jungle setting to its copious memorable score previously composed by Alan Silvestri (who was actually scheduled to join the crew but unable to do so, due to his scheduling conflicts with THE A-TEAM), PREDATORS is clearly a loving homage to the original movie that at times it feels more like a reboot than a supposedly direct sequel. Nevertheless it's a respectable approach but the movie also suffers from its inevitable flaw of hitting too many familiar notes from the series while lacking fresh ideas on the other side. Another major problem of the movie is its inconsistent flow of the plot, written by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, which has particularly stop cold in the middle part once the scene focuses on Noland's (Laurence Fishburne) character.
Still PREDATORS is a solid, action-packed movie with director Nimrod Antal particularly knows how to orchestrate action without relying to jerky camerawork. No doubt the action set pieces are entertaining and suspenseful enough to keep the viewers hooked on the screen, especially in the well-crafted first half of the movie.
The characters are equally captivating, if not as memorable as the ensembles in the original movie. Among the unexpected cast that I'm sure many never see it coming is Adrien Brody. A thin and lanky actor who is not particularly known for action-hero type, Brody manages to break the odd and somehow convinces with his no-nonsense, tough-guy role -- complete with cleverly restrained voice and an impressive six-pack. Though he is clearly not as memorable as Arnold Schwarzenegger's iconic role in the original, he remains impressive enough. Alice Braga, who is the only female actor in the movie, delivers an engaging performance as a sniper with a conscience in what could have been a thankless part instead. Topher Grace is another surprising revelation. Those who have condemned his miscast performance as Venom in the much-maligned SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007), will probably have to eat their words out judging by his wickedly sneaky role as the mysterious Edwin who is actually more than just a physician himself. Last but not least is Laurence Fishburne, who made quite an impression as the mentally unstable Noland. He's actually fun to watch for, though there's no denying the static flow during the introduction of his character that crippled the fluidity of the movie. It's a shame that the filmmakers could have boost the role for Danny Trejo a little bit more credit than just a mere cameo.
The other good news about this movie is its clever use of practical FX work -- something that is rarely seen in such genre nowadays. Thanks to KNB EFX, the effects team have certainly does a great job continuing the late Stan Winston's legacy to create those bad-ass looking Predators and a few gory scenes worthy of praise. The only downside is its somewhat inclusion of badly-rendered CG moment (which involves the explosion between a character and a Predator), which is questionably out of place especially with all the practical FX works are done here.
Not a great or particularly memorable movie by any means, PREDATORS remains an engaging cinematic experience that will satisfy (most) of the die-hard fans. If that's not enough, there's an open-ended finale that suggested a sequel might be in the works.
(An interesting trivia: producer Robert Rodriguez has actually approach Arnold Schwarzenegger to reprise his role as Dutch in a cameo appearance when he began writing the first draft for the movie. He even go as far as willing to stall the movie's production start date until after Arnold had vacated the Governor of California's mansion. But in the end, Arnold declined to do a cameo. A sad case, indeed, in an otherwise worthy addition to this movie).