Try as they might, filmmakers just a can’t seem to give the Predator that flawless second outing he so richly deserves. The original is a 24 carat, 80’s masterpiece that rises above it’s muscle bound, yet marvellous concept to be a genuine example of pitch perfect plotting and perfectly acted piece of action hoopla.
It’s sequel is as messy as it is insanely overblown and yet while it’s sheer exuberance carried you through, it was more Commando than Aliens.
Which brings me to the third official instalment of the Predator franchise (let’s just sweep those AVP movies under the “doesn’t count” rug, shall we?) which also is trying to be Aliens but finds out that crafting a worthy sequel is a little more involved than just sticking an “S” on the end of the title.
Snapping awake while hurtling hundreds of feet in the air, Adrian Brody’s gravelly voiced merc (yes, The Pianist’s Adrian Brody – We’ll get back to that particular bit of casting in a minute) parachutes into a hostile forest to find himself aligned in unfamiliar territory with various hitmen, criminals, snipers and Danny fucking Trejo in the exact same situation. Having no memory of his abduction, this disparate band of bullet-happy lunatics try to work together when faced with the underpants filling revelation that a) they aren’t on earth anymore and b) they are being hunted. But they aren’t being hunted by your usual garden variety Predator, no, this trio comes from a larger, meaner breed, each boasting a special skill more lethal than a minivan full of Liam Neesons.
One is a falconer, able to scout and track great distances, another has a pack of monster hounds he unleashes like an intergalactic Mr. Burns and the third is simply a mean son of a bitch.
As these new Preds whittle down the cast list (as Predators usually do), can they pull together to survive or are there monsters INSIDE the group as well as out?
While well shot and boasting some legitimately impressive names in the cast (Walton Goggins, Mahershala Ali), there is a distinct feeling of a missed opportunity here, especially seeing as indie firebrand Robert Rodriguez had a HUGE hand in it’s creation. Produced by him, written by him and filmed at his own personal studios, you feel if he’d only directed the bloody thing it wouldn’t feel so restrained. Instead, while he was off making his insipid Sin City sequel, he handed directing duties to Nimród Antal, director of respectably average survival horror pic Vacancy.
Oddly enough, the real problem here is the sheer time it takes to explain and set up a concept we’ve seen at least four times before, the Predator’s abilities, it’s hunting methods, it’s tech, all of it is approached in a soft reboot kind of way and the first half tends to drag if you’re familiar with the material. In fact the script doesn’t even try to shift gears until the hapless troupe of mercenaries and murderers stumble across a Predator camp and even then it’s somewhat of hit and miss affair. The alien hunting dogs are memorable but only used once, a stand off between a Pred and a stoic, sword wielding Yakuza is cool as Hell, if a little stiffly choreographed and a hugely amusing Lawrence Fishburne cameo raises more questions than it answers, like: if he’s been stranded on an alien game preserve for years and has been being hunted every day, why is he so chunky? Has he been EATING Predators to stay alive?
The actors try hard to match the group aesthetic of the original but are saddled with a lead whose sole defining trait is how much of an utter prick he is. No disrespect to Brody (toldja we’d get back to him) because he’s a fine actor and certainly looks the part, but you can’t help but feel he’s miscast here and everything he says and does pulls you out of the film (you could say the same of a VERY out of place looking Topher Grace but that doesn’t count as it’s part of his character arc).
Every now and then, the movie pulls a blinder, but just can’t sustain it long enough to truly endear itself to only the most devoted Predator groupie. Not the end of the world, but thoughts of what a Rodriguez helmed Predator movie could’ve been like hangs over proceedings like heat shimmer camouflage.
A truly worthy Predator sequel?
The hunt continues…