Not really a remake in the standard sense, the Robert Rodriguez-produced Predators wants to make you forget everything that’s happened with this “franchise” since 1990. That’s when the wayward Predator 2 brought the alien hunters to a not too distant future L.A., with very middling results. So forget Alien vs. Predator and the equally awful follow-up and prepare yourself for another Most Dangerous Game take on the material. This time around, a rag tag group of killers (both professional and “hobbyists”) are whisked off to an extraterrestrial game preserve. There, they are pitted against well-armed squads of the crab-mouthed monsters in a deadly, frequently derivative, test of survival.
We first meet Special Ops mercenary Royce (Adrien Brody) as he’s freefalling toward the planet’s surface. Within minutes, he’s hooked up with an executioner from a Mexican drug cartel (Danny Trejo), a Brazilian military ace (Alice Braga), a Russian war vet (Oleg Taktarov), a rebel soldier from Sierra Leone (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a death row inmate (Walton Goggins), a member of the Japanese Yakuza (Louis Ozawa Changchien) and a doctor (Topher Grace). Quickly figuring out their “kill or be killed” place on this jungle otherworld, they discover that they are not alone. Not only is there a band of space slayers out to get them, but the area has been populated with beings from other galaxies as well.
Thus we get the Predator riffs we know so well: the infrared night vision sequences; the ominous vocal clicks; the ability to mimic the environment around them; the arm blades, the shoulder lasers, and the pulse cannons. New this time around are the predator attack dogs (cool), flying surveillance devices, a long standing blood feud that finds the bigger hunters picking on the smaller, and one incredibly whacked out cameo (no – the Governator does not show up here, though his original movie mission is referenced). Had Predators done more with this, had it offered up even more novel reinterpretations of the creature and its mythology, we’d enjoy this movie a lot more. Instead, director Nimród Antal goes back to the standard action movie beats — some down time to establish personality and exposition, and then ramp up the foot chases and jungle firefights. The results are fun if wholly formulaic.
It’s sad that the man who made Vacancy and Armored doesn’t have more to say. There is no vision here, no spark of imagination to get your inner geek re-invested in this series. Basically, if you loved the first film and can tolerate the Arnold-less sequel, you’ll have a good time. But if you are expecting something inspired, something that takes the whole Predator experience to a whole new level (like James Cameron did when he turned Alien into Aliens), you will need to look elsewhere. What you get instead is a thoroughly professional, journeyman thriller which avoids surprises and stays well within the genre. Even the acting is nothing short of decent. Brody and crew aren’t give all that much to do, and they manage such a minimized requirement quite well.
Frankly, one expects a little more from producer Rodriguez. Given the blood-splattered insanity of his Planet Terror and the astonishing optical wonders of Sin City, should we really be simply satisfied? Granted, it’s Antal behind the lens, but one imagines the filmmaker functioning under the full faith and artistic credit of his overseer. Somewhere buried deep inside a scenario in which interstellar sportsman hunt humans for fun lies a really superior cinematic experience. In fact, it’s already happened — some 23 years ago. Predators had two decades to find a way to freshen up this concept. Instead, it goes back to the motion picture truisms that worked before. While not bad, it’s definitely not bad ass.