Predators is not an ambitious movie.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you. It’s better to have an unassuming movie with bite than a lackluster epic, and Predators, helmed by Robert Rodriguez, sets out to do only one thing: pit a group of terrestrial warriors against everyone’s favorite space-headhunters. Hilarity, in the screaming and explosions sense, ensues.
Read my full review past the break.
Predators is smoothly and economically plotted; the film hordes its minutes like a particularly miserly banker. A collection of ne’er do-wells awakens in free-fall, armed and plummeting into an unknown jungle by parachute. Immediately, a mercenary (Adrien Brody) possessing the requisite grizzle and lone-wolf attitude to be the protagonist takes charge of the dubious band of eight, each a token action-movie antihero in their own way. Sure enough, they quickly realize they are being hunted…and, well, you can probably guess where it goes from there.
There are few surprises in Predators. If you’ve seen an action movie in the past decade and a half you’ll probably be able to follow the plot almost from beginning to end. There are shootouts, grisly killings, and of course the requisite plot twist. What there isn’t is much of a sense of suspense. I am quite unfamiliar with the original Predator, but I saw the sequel, and where its lone alien hunter was a menacing and sometimes terrifying force, this quartet amble along for a surprisingly long time with relatively little success.
Adrien Brody does a capable job as the mercenary Royce, but he’s probably not strictly necessary. The cast is competent, but rarely needs to emote beyond grim purpose or the occasional flicker of camaraderie. Most of the dialogue consists of tactical discussions and tense threats; the antagonists hardly speak at all. The characters are, universally, types rather than individuals. Who they are is far less important than what they are: a stoic Yakuza (who of course gets his hands on a katana before the movie ends), a depraved convict on death row, a Spetsnaz commando, an IDF sniper.
The Predators, for their part, get a surprisingly small amount of screen time. In accordance with the ancient law of inverse numerical effectiveness, four Predators are apparently far less formidable than a single Predator. Perhaps because their prey are trained warriors, genre-savvy and rather quick on the upshot, the Predators come off as far more adept at butchery than fighting or hunting. Traps fail almost universally, and almost every time the human characters counter Predator technological superiority with clearly superior tactics and fieldcraft.
But Predators isn’t a character study or a drama piece. It’s basically an extended action set piece focused on the humans, and the action is solid. Bullets spray; close combat is vicious and abruptly shot. The movie’s highlights, an obligatory katana duel that nonetheless feels like an extended homage and Royce’s final battle with the lead Predator, have a primal rush. Predators isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s an acceptable popcorn-chewing spectacle for an afternoon. That’s all it really wants to be.