The Hunt Continues: A Spoiler-Free Review of Predators
My schedule finally cleared up so I could see Predators, a sequel to the 1987 movie which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and was directed by John McTiernan. When I first heard that Predators producer Robert Rodriguez intended this sequel to be a direct continuation of the first Predator while ignoring the events in Predator 2 and the Alien vs. Predator movies, I was somewhat concerned that Predators would turn out to be something like Bryan Singer's Superman Returns. For me, it seemed like Singer in Superman Returns was so determined to pay tribute to Richard Donner and the late Christopher Reeve's contributions to the Superman movies from the 70s and 80s that he forgot to make a good Superman movie, so I was worried that Rodriguez and director Nimród Antal were going to end up making a sequel that's too reverent of the first Predator to be a good Predator movie. Thankfully, I was wrong. Not only is Predators the best Predator sequel to date, but I also found it to be a better film than Predator itself. Read on....
Most importantly, Predators does what any good monster movie sequel should do: It adheres to the narrative logic of the previous entries while at the same time upping the ante by adding new details to the titular monster and effectively incorporating these details into the story itself so that if feels like a deeper, richer filmgoing experience than just a simple retread. In the case of Predators, we finally get away from Earth and on to one of the Predators' worlds, where we see what exactly they do on those worlds and what other alien creatures are involved. We get additional information (albeit vague and fleeting) about the Predators' social structure and hints of intense conflict within the Predator culture. Predator 2 and the AvP movies provided a few extra details (mostly visual in nature) about the Predators, but nothing too drastic to change or add to what was already established in the first movie; even making the Predators Erich von Däniken-esque "ancient astronauts" in the first AvP movie really didn't do much to add depth to the monsters. In contrast, Predators throws enough new stuff into the Predator universe to keep the franchise going for some time to come.
Yet what really makes Predators work is that it is clear from its opening frames that this film is a quality product. In that sense, Predators outdoes the first Predator: The cinematography, direction, casting, writing and acting are all a notch or two above the original, and I think Antal is a superior director in comparison to McTiernan. McTiernan has largely made a name for himself in action-adventure movies while Antal's work is more focused on suspense and mystery in films such as Kontroll and Vacancy, and it shows. Antal places the jungle setting in a very foreboding, creepy light, and he effectively paces the movie between action, character development, horror and narrative exposition. Perhaps I'm more inclined to appreciate Antal's approach to the Predator universe because I'm more of a horror fan than an action-adventure fan; nevertheless, Antal knows what it takes to make these monsters both menacing and morbid, scary and sadistic, moreso than any other director who has handled the Predator franchise to date.
Interestingly, while Predators does use quite a few visual, thematic and musical cues as references to the first movie, its plot hinges on ideas which echo those in the first AvP movie--namely, the notions of Predators building "game preserves" and choosing a group of humans to be involved in a hunt. However, Predators script and direction make better use of these concepts so they are more integrated into the plot and not as arbitrary as they were in AvP. (Click here for some of my additional observations and opinions on the AvP movies.) In particular, the Predators' selection of human participants in Predators--a rich combination of criminals, mercenaries, and military personnel--tantalizingly suggests that the alien hunters intimately understand the human race and its capacity for a wide range of violence, perhaps even better than the human characters themselves.
If there were any drawbacks to Predators, it would be that the actors in the creature suits should have paid more attention to the costumed performances given by Kevin Peter Hall and Ian Whyte in the previous Predator movies. What Hall and Whyte understood is that when wearing a costume that's a bit bigger than you--and thus doesn't always move the way you want it to move--body language goes a long way towards making the costume appear realistic. In their performances, Hall and Whyte moved with a sense of purpose and somewhat slower and more precise than a human being would, which added an aura of alien-ness and determination to their characterization of the Predators. In contrast, the monster actors in Predators often move faster than they should, sometimes making it appear as if the actors weren't quite the right fit for the costumes they were wearing.
Minor complaints aside, Predators is clearly a labor of love that's a treat for both Predator and monster movie fans alike. The box office has been largely bereft of monster movies as of late (Splice, another monster movie which featured Adrien Brody in a starring role, came and went without much notice last June), so Predators is a great way to get a big-screen, high-quality monster mash during this long, hot summer season.