"There's something out there waiting for us, and it ain't no man. We're all gonna die."
-Billy (Sonny Landham), Predator
A group of warriors and killers, trapped in the jungle, outmatched and outclassed by a being they can hardly understand, but must learn to defeat if they wish to survive. Sound familiar? It sounds like Predator, the 1987 action classic from John McTiernan (Die Hard) and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. But, in this case, it'sPredators, the 2010 action film from Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, Sin City) and Nimrod Antal (Kontroll, Armored), and starring Adrien Brody (The Pianist), Alice Braga (City of God), Laurence Fishburne, Topher Grace, and Danny Trejo. Sounds like a nice collection of heavy hitters, doesn't it? At this point, the question has to be asked: We're still talking about Predators, right? The last time such a big name group was brought together for this franchise was, well, 1987.
Predators literally launches us into the action, opening with a shot of Royce (Adrien Brody) plummeting downward with a strange looking parachute stuck to his back. After a rocky landing, he immediately discovers a group of soldiers and other killers from around the world (ranging from Yakuza to death row inmates). They decide to set their differences aside in favor of taking down whoever put them in this perplexing situation. But quite quickly, they realize that things are more sinister than they first thought. Simply put, this group is being hunted, and the things hunting them may not even be human. In fact, they might not even be on Earth any longer.
Predators looks to Predator for almost all of its cues. Producer Robert Rodriguez originally wrote this script for Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the 90's, before the muscled one moved into politics. Fox, however, decided to go with the Alien vs. Predator series, and managed to tarnish the name of two of their premiere franchises in one fell swoop. Amazingly, Fox returned to this tainted well for Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, which managed to be even worse than the first. It was at this point that someone at Fox had the bright idea of treating both Alien and Predator as the top tier franchises that they are, and decided to get actual talent involved to try and salvage the mess Fox had wrought.
In the case of Predators, this meant returning to the script Rodriguez wrote, now reworked to be about a new group. The new lead, Royce, is played by Adrien Brody. Yes, that Adrien Brody. While he is almost the exact physical opposite of Arnold, Brody brings a sense of cunning and ruthless intelligence to the proceedings that let the audience buy into it immediately. And the rest of the cast is nothing to sneeze at, either. While the other big name is Laurence Fishburne, who turns in a satisfying and often hilarious performance, the lesser known actors craft their own unique characters and become memorable in their own right. Among the highlights are Alice Braga as an IDF sniper, Topher Grace as an overwhelmed doctor, and UFC fighter Oleg Taktarov as a wonderfully sympathetic Russian soldier. The way these characters are written and played is convincing enough that I cared about their fates, something that I haven't experienced in aPredator film since the original.
Rodriguez and director Antal also realize that half the success of these films is in the suspense. In the first film, the audience doesn't know what's hunting the group any more than the characters do. While that reveal can never be replicated, the filmmakers capitalize on what we do know, and introduce new elements to throw the audience off balance. The Predators are upgraded from their previous appearances, but in a manner that makes them better hunters. Hunting "dogs," "falcons" and other classical hunting tools are used here to draw the humans out. That they manage to actually make the hunt thrilling and, yes, suspenseful, is a testament to their good intentions.
Everyone involved with the film has pledged their undying love to the original Predator, and that adoration shows in several elements lifted from that 1987 classic. But unlike Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, which fell prey to slavishly recreating set pieces from previous films and thus never established a strong identity on its own,Predators uses these nods as sly winks to fans. Only rarely does it feel like Predators is aping Predator, and by the time it does, the characters are so well established that it doesn't overshadow the momentum of the picture.
Predators seems to do the impossible: Take a franchise that was a shadow of its former self and restore it to glory. Is the film as good as Predator? No, of course not. That film is an all-time high for the action genre, being one of the definitive 80's action extravaganzas. But Predators doesn't need to be that. Instead, it's a smart, measured, thoroughly enjoyable slice of sci-fi action and shows the series putting its best foot forward for the first time in far too long. So grab the biggest knife you got and get your butt into the theaters, because these are some ugly mothers you'll want to see.