I’m in a burger joint eating the bun-clad remains of a dead cow, and I can’t believe I’m actually nervous. Predators, the first proper movie in the franchise since 1990‘s so-so Predator 2, is due to start in less than an hour, and I desperately want it to succeed.
As a Predator fan, I only have memories of the classic 1987 original to cling onto. A film replete with classic moments, memorable characters, and endlessly quotable lines like “stick around”, “I ain’t got time to bleed” and “GET TO DERR CHOPPAH!”, which have long since passed into the movie-going geek’s vocabulary.
I’m in a holding pen now, deep in the bowels of a Central London cinema. There are little plastic cups of free wine and beer, and bowls of crisps the colour of wood chippings. Predators is mere minutes away, and still the tension mounts.
We’re given production booklets: A5 pamphlets, perhaps as long as the Predators script itself, filled with production notes, character profiles and interviews with the film’s big players, among them producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimród Antal.
Ah, Rodriguez and Antal, the two men on whom all my hopes for Predators are pinned. Can they possibly deliver the sequel to Predator its fans truly deserve?
Last month, I pored over every scene of Antal’s last project, Armored, for evidence of greatness. A modestly budgeted, low-key ensemble thriller, Armored carried itself with the confidence and sure-footedness which suggested that maybe, just maybe, the director could deliver the goods I’ve been anxiously waiting for.
We’re being ushered into the cinema now. Ominously, our phones are taken and stored neatly in numbered plastic bags. The lights dim. It’s showtime.
* * *
All too quickly, Predators is over, and now I’m seated on the midnight train home. I have a beer purchased from the buffet cart in my hand, and I’m trying to make sense of what I’ve just seen.
For producer Rodriguez, Predators is the fruit of a 16-year-old labour of love, and it shows. Plot points, character types and entire scenes are lifted wholesale from the original Predator, and right from the opening rattle of drums, a hackle-raising ringer for Alan Silvestri’s primal score from the 1987 classic, it’s obvious that Predators is a film that wants long-time fans on its side.
Adrien Brody plays Royce, a wiry mercenary who, along with seven other shady characters – played by instantly recognisable actors such as Danny Trejo, The Shield’s Walton Goggins and Spider-Man 3‘s Topher Grace – find themselves in an unfamiliar alien jungle, whose fauna teems with an invisible hunter unknown to them, but very much known to us.
Brody convinces as the selfish, loner protagonist, and while he lacks Arnold Schwarzenegger’s elemental presence, he at least adds an air of human vulnerability to his character – his Royce is a man who, you suspect, couldn’t trade bare-knuckle blows with a seven-foot alien and get away with it as the Austrian Oak could.
For at least the first three-quarters of an hour, director Antal keeps Predators curiously muted – where director John McTiernan’s direction was vibrant, swaggering and kinetic, this 2010 iteration is cagey, perhaps even predestrian. The environment looks grainy and wan, like an autumn East Anglian copse rather than McTiernan’s sweaty South American jungle.
Matters aren’t helped by the script, which relies on tough-guy stereotypes rather than strong characterisation, and a few choice lines aside, the dialogue lacks the cheesy terseness that made the original’s sparkle.
Then there’s a moment hinted at in the Predators preview footage released online last week, where the mercenaries’ hunters release a pack of their own particular breed of gun dogs, and it’s a sequence that, while not an out-and-out failure, doesn’t get the pulse raising as was surely intended.
In the scenes that follow, however, Predators begins to find its narrative feet, as Brody and his band of grumbling survivors begin to catch up with the audience, and finally learn the truly dire nature of their situation – the local residents have a hunting party in the offing, and Brody’s mercenaries are the prey.
And then Laurence Fishburne shows up, and all bets are off. There’s a samurai sword fight which is both absurd and hugely entertaining, numerous bloody deaths, a neat plot development which this reviewer didn’t see coming, followed by a muddy, fluorescent climax which is entertaining, yet a little too familiar to be truly satisfying.
This, I think, is the biggest problem with Predators, and one which I’d anxiously foreseen since the earliest teaser trailers. Where Predator was the headline band, the legend, the Led Zeppelin of 80s action movie cinema, Predators is its wig-wearing tribute act.
All the iconic tropes and recognisable accoutrements from the first film are trotted out for our amusement here, from tree-flattening mini-guns via wooden booby-traps to bare-chested beat-downs. Certain characters even behave the same, and fulfil the same roles, as their counterparts from the 1987 film.
And like watching a solid, competent tribute band in a local pub, Predators replays all the beats and hits from its stadium-filling predecessor with crowd-pleasing enthusiasm, but there’s no escaping the feeling that it’s all been seen before.
So the beer I sit here with as I type these words isn’t exactly imbibed with celebration, but then it’s not a consolation beer either. It’s a highly entertaining film – at times, hugely so – and Predator fans should rest assured that memories of the horrid Alien Vs. Predator movies can be finally laid to rest.
But like Alan Silvestri’s score, which returns in only a slightly updated form, Predators reverberates to an old rhythm rather than a new one all its own.