Monday, February 28, 2011

Predators (2010)

Predators started out holding my interest, with our main character coming-to in free-fall over a jungle.  His parachute deploys and he lands with a weapon ready.  He shortly meets up with several other characters who have fallen from the sky as well.  Some of their dialogue is a little stupid, but otherwise I was "in" for the first 20 minutes or so.  Unfortunately, from there it starts going downhill.

The main problem with the movie is that it doesn't do what a sequel should.  Take Alien and Aliens, for example.  In Alien, we'd never seen the creature before, had no idea of what it was capable of, didn't know all it's mysteries and tricks.  By the end of the movie we've learned quite a bit.  When Aliens begins, it doesn't ignore this knowledge to have a whole new group of people make these discoveries all over again, it builds on past knowledge, ups the ante, and still has new reveals, moments, and aspects to the characters that make the movie engaging and tense.  While we knew what a face-hugger did from Alien, we'd never imagined being pursued around a room by one, and so that scene in Aliens is genuinely terrifying and novel.  We also had never seen a queen, so that reveal was a huge moment.  And we'd never faced multiple aliens, so that raised the stakes (while balancing them with a well-armed military force on the opposite side).

In Predator, you've got one predator and his capabilities and true nature are slowly but steadily revealed throughout the entire movie, and it's all new and scary.  Predators stumbles by not creating a new encounter while building off of the audience's already-obtained knowledge of the predators.  In this way, Predator 2 was a superior sequel because you had the government agency who knew about their abilities from the first film, even though overall it's not a great movie.  In Predators, we're learning again, along with the characters, what these things are, what they can do, and why they do it, but we're bored because we already know all of this.  These revelations are huge for the characters but boring for us.  It's not fun to be so far ahead of the characters' knowledge when the mystery is supposed to be interesting.  In Predator we're talking the journey with Arnold and crew, learning as he learns.  From the first frame of Predators we already know that each character has been dropped into a giant "game preserve" by the predators to be hunted.  FRAME ONE!  And instead of really upping the pressure, the addition of more predators doesn't seem to add an iota of tension or danger.  In fact, when they kill off two of them so they can have the final showdown it lessens the danger because we see that they're vulnerable and kill-able.  Your monster should always seem invincible or overwhelming (Alien, Aliens, Predator).  If the real soldiers of Predator died to the last man fighting ONE, showing a bunch of losers taking down THREE just makes me think these aren't the same species.

I was willing to go along with the movie if it did something interesting and new, but it was mostly just a retread of moments from the first movie.  We've got a large, well-armed team, in a jungle, some internal tension and in-fighting, and then one-by-one they're picked off by an unseen enemy.  We've got the "Billy on the bridge" moment in the yakuza character, a trip over a waterfall and into a lake, a mud-covered protagonist (which even directly references the first film in dialogue), an "over here" moment, a character staring at the trees where a predator is hiding while cloaked.  The survivors are once again the main character and a South American woman.  Even the music is lifted directly from the original film.

And yet, for a film that has no shame about duplicating moments, it lacks a single memorable line.  The first movie had quite a few memorable bits of dialogue and one-liners.  Predators features, at best, passable dialogue, and at worst laughable lines delivered all-too-seriously.

I don't know why someone thought Adrien Brody would make a good macho hero, but he doesn't add much and his character is beyond bland.  I like Brody in many other movies, too.  He uses a Christian-Bale-as-Batman voice the entire time, and little allusions are made about his dark past which nobody in the audience cares about and don't make him more interesting.

Larry Fishburne's character is almost interesting, but we get so little time with him that we don't care about him either.

The worst character might be Topher Grace's, because his little twisty "man is the real monster IS YOUR MIND BLOWN YET???" bit is just frustrating and stupid rather than shocking and entertaining.  I think there's even a horrible line that's exactly that: "You're worse than these monsters!"  DUMB.  STALE.  SEEN IT.  NOT EARNED.

Once again, Predator stands alone as the only good movie, even though we've seen two direct sequels and two lousy Aliens vs. Predator movies.  I think there is more mileage to be had out of the character, but it's going to take a good script and a director who knows how to find it.

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