Friday, 9 July 2010

Movie Review: Predators

For reasons I’ve never really fully understood the ‘Predator’ series is a movie SF franchise which seems peculiarly beloved and revered by its fans. In truth the Predator (basically a guttural, dread-locked killing machines with the ability to make itself invisible) hasn’t been hugely well-served by Hollywood. The original 1987 movie was an early-period Arnie classic, a decent if unexceptional action movie. The urban sequel starring Danny Glover has its supporters but is ultimately a bit of a misfire and it’s probably best to draw a discreet veil over the two more recent monster mash-ups between the Alien xenomorphs and the Predators (although they’re guilty pleasures round at Stuff Towers). But the fans really care about and cherish the Predator series and are curiously protective of its rather undistinguished cinematic legacy. With the Predator devalued and undermined by the AvP series, the fans are likely to be rather pleased by ‘Predators’, an unexpected revival for the beasts and casual cinemagoers and fans of SF action movies aren’t likely to be terribly disappointed either. Directed by Nimrod Antal from a script by Robert Rodriguez, ‘Predators’ strips things right back to the bone and dumps the Predators and their would-be human prey back in a jungle setting where it all began 23 years ago.

A mercenary named Royce (Adrien Brody) finds himself parachuting through the atmosphere of a jungle planet where he meets up with a similarly-baffled disparate group who have no idea where they are, why they’re there and what’s out in the jungle determined to pick them off one by one. An attack by vicious hog-like ground-creatures is just the first terror to face them before the Predators themselves, stealthy and invisible (when it suits them) close in for the kill. What starts off looking like a low-budget straight-to-DVD sci-fi cash-in (hello, The Asylum!) develops eventually – it drags for the first half-an-hour – into a desperate battle for survival and a tense cat-and-mouse game as Royce and his reluctant companions realise they’re on a game reserve planet and that they’re the game. The Predators, with their hi-tech heat-seeking vision and laser-guided weaponry, are hot on their heels and, in time-honoured tradition, they start to pick off Royce’s group one by one.

‘Predators’ is a movie which really picks up momentum as it goes along. At first Royce’s group seem like a bland, faceless bunch but the script cleverly and quickly gives them light and shade and one or two characters - one in particular – are revealed to be not quite what they seem. I still can’t quite buy into the peculiar-looking Brody as the action hero (although he’s clearly spent some time at the gym for this one - witness the caked-in-mud sequence, a nod towards Arnie in the first movie) and his Christian Bale gravel-voice is a revelation to say the least. After a series of impressive, yet not ostentatious, set pieces the movie risks losing momentum by the introduction of Laurence Fishburne’s barmy survivalist character but the last act picks up the pace again as the group’s numbers are depleted further and Royce puts into action his audacious plan to use a tortured Predator to pilot the creatures’ invisible spaceship off the planet whilst risking the lives of those still left. If you found the level of gore in ‘A v P: Requiem’ a little over-the-top (and let’s face it, it was), you’ll be pleased to hear they’ve dialled it back a bit in ‘Predators’. Yes, people are blown up, eviscerated and, memorably, one has his spinal column ripped out, but otherwise it’s just the fantasy violence of Predators being beheaded, their green ichor spraying through the air. It’s violent and a bit grisly but it’s comic book stuff, its context and the film’s setting distancing it from reality.

It’s actually refreshing to watch an SF film which isn’t defined by its visual effects and/or swamped by state-of-the-art CGI. It’s not in 3D too, which is a relief. Most of the FX seem to be practical; the Predators are men in suits, of course, and the prosthetics of their mandibled heads are excellent but otherwise there’s just a bit of understated CGI for a couple of spaceship establishing scenes and the usual pyrotechnics which go hand-in-hand with any action movie. Much as I enjoyed and admired the sheer artistry of the brilliant ‘Avatar’ it’s really quite refreshing to watch a genre film which, against all expectations, manages to focus as much on its characters as its visuals and ‘Predators’ is so much better than it could have been by easing up on the special effects and creating mood through creeping horror and claustrophobia and the unease which tends to go hand-in-hand with hot, sticky, clammy jungle settings.

It’s been a rather drab summer blockbuster season this year and there have been no real stand-out movies yet and a few disappointments – that’d include you, Iron Man 2, by the way. ‘Predators’ is a very pleasant surprise from a film which could have been just dismissed as the last gasp of a tired franchise and further evidence of Hollywood’s paucity of new ideas. But Antal has crafted a taut and gripping SF adventure which should more than satisfy the Predator fanbase as well as providing a decent and exciting cinema experience for an audience who just want a good night out with a fast and unpretentious action movie.

Stuff coming soon...Curb Your Enthusiasm season 7 on DVD...Stuff gathers its thoughts on the Dr Who finale...

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