Predators was tasked with the impossible job of setting a bruised and battered series back on course while reminding people of the great film that christened the endeavor from the beginning. After the Aliens vs. Predator films regulated the predators to bystanders in the sub-hack-and-slash horror genre, it had become evident that it was time for something different. I’m pleased to say that, while hardly the classic of the first film, Predators manages to inject new life into a science fiction concept that is both exceedingly simple but also capable of a myriad amount of variation.
Predators begins with Royce (Adrien Brody) plummeting through the atmosphere, unconscious. He realizes that he has been equipped with a parachute that deploys automatically, saving us from an incredibly short film. Confused and lost, Royce finds himself in the middle of an unknown jungle, but still armed with whatever weapons were, presumably, on him before being whisked away. By starting in media res, the film shows the audience that it is interested in the same sort of lean, no nonsense storytelling of the first film. When Royce comes across several others who have been stranded along with him, including a Yakuza decked out in a full business suit, a wisecracking criminal, a female sniper, and, strangely enough, an ordinary primary care physician, among others, each character is drawn with nothing more than a quick sketch. We don’t need to know these guy’s backgrounds, we merely need to know that the series is going back to the mercenaries versus predators formula that has served it well in the past.
In one of the better scenes of the film, the stranded mercs come to a clearing to discover a series of strange moons and planets midway between waxing and waning in an alien sky. This is the twist that the predator sequels have been looking for ever since Predator 2 way back in 1990. By pushing the film outside of our solar system, the filmmakers have opened up a whole set of possibilities. The castaways not only discover that they are stranded on a game preserve (a twist that more closely allies the film with the short story, “The Most Dangerous Game”), but also suggests that there is some sort of civil war brewing between the predators. While many of these ideas are not fully capitalized on, they still show a sense of imagination and an earnest attempt to show the audience something we haven’t seen in a predator film before. I especially enjoyed the showdown between the katana wielding Yakuza and a predator, a scene that begs the question, did the predators ever visit feudal Japan? Perhaps this can be explored in the sequel, Predatorses.
But even as the film attempts to show us something new, there is also a back to basics mentality in Predators. The events of the first film are even recounted by the sniper, Isabelle, who explains how Dutch managed to defeat a predator. This is a smart maneuver because it avoids unnecessary scenes in which the characters rediscover the strengths and weaknesses of the predators, finally catching up with the audience. It also tells us to ignore most of the sequels, suggesting that this is the true heir McTiernan’s original, a connection the film highlights each time Alan Silvestri’s original score swells. But Predators (plural) never quite matches the storytelling quality of Predator (singular). The tension between the castaways in Predators isn’t used as well as the tension between Dillon and Dutch’s team of mercenaries. The story itself seems somewhat episodic as the humans stumble along from one danger to the next, seemingly without a plan.
The biggest curiosity of the film, however, is perhaps the strange turn by Adrien ‘The Pianist’ Brody. There is a certain amount of logic behind casting the wiry Brody in the role, since Danny Glover was also a step down from the vein popping biceps of Schwarzenegger. I’m pleased to say that Brody handles the role of action hero well. Not only has he trained for the role, but he manages to affect a gravel crusted voice that gives off enough of an I-don’t-care attitude for us to believe that this Polish piano player is now a hardened killer. No, if there is any fault in the film it does not lie with Brody. It is the fact that the film, for all of its ideas, never fully comes together in order to create something greater than the sum of its parts. For many, this means there will be plenty of arguments about which is the true heir to the original film, Predator 2 or Predators.