Screening Log #4: Predators (2010)

After seeing Predators for the second time – the first was before I’d started this blog – I feel comfortable writing about the film.

Admission: Predator is among my favourite films; is it the “best” film I have ever seen? No. But it is an incredibly entertaining action/horror film that moved me to put a blanket over my window for a week after first seeing it when I was younger. To my mind it holds up very well past its 80’s pedigree. The film has an impressively screen-chewing cast, a truly iconic antagonist and is viscerally shot and paced by John McTeirnan; it also has both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura, who appeared together to positive effect in The Running Man.

So Predators has much to live up to, especially after the limp sequel Predator 2 and the positively abysmal AVP films enhance the qualities of the original in relief. I was very curious to see how Predators would stand up as a child of the proud patriarch of 80’s action films.

It turns out that it holds up surprisingly well. By sticking closely to the structural and thematic paradigms of the original film, the new Predator film holds its own as a worthy successor. Predators begins in a very similar way to the original film; where the original inserted its overly-masculine protagonists into the jungle under false military pretenses, building suspense before the Predator alien comes into focus as the true antagonist of the film, Predators excises any pretense and begins with Royce (Adrien Brody) hurtling through the sky and landing before even giving the audience so much as a title card. Through beginning the film in this manner director Nimrod Antal places the audiences in a sympathetic position to the characters parachuted onto the planet, loosened from any particular context and without knowledge of how to proceed.

Predators PosterThe group consists of an all-star collection of soldiers and mercenaries from around the globe: Africa, Mexico, US military, Yakuza, Russia, etc. The film takes its time setting the layout of the world, revealing that these soldiers are no longer on earth at all and that they are being hunted. As in Predator the action is slow to build, the alien hunters being withheld from the audience until well into the film. Characters are established, even if only in slender sketches, before they are brutally removed from the film, which loans the film a measure more gravitas than it would possess if the killing was waded directly into. After trekking through the jungle and a run-in with Predator hunting dogs and the group has a run-in with an off-kilter survivor, Nolan (Laurence Fishburne), who attempts to relieve them of their gear. This encounter serves to move the plot into its final act with the expediency of deaths quickly whittling the group down to its final members.

The final showdown of the film between Royce and an especially fearsome looking Predator takes cues from the first film and contains a shot that I could not help but see as hearkening back towards Apocalypse Now; indeed, the film itself references Hemingway directly, and more implicitly the theme of the de-humanizing effects of violence as seen in other books films such as The Most Dangerous Game. The Predator alien comes to stand in as a representational figure for a primal aspect of the human condition that must be overcome by “civilization” or compassion; Royce forgoes a would-be disastrous escape attempt aboard a Predator craft to save Isabelle (Alice Braga) and subsequently triumphs over the last of the hunters.

Brody acquits himself better than I anticipated as an action hero, the rest of the cast filling their roles sufficiently for their limited and quirky characters. The film makes use of elements of the score from Predator in just one if its many homages to its predecessor; at once point Isabelle directly recounts the story of the original film and Dutch (Schwarzenegger)’s previous encounter with the alien. By adhering to the structure of the first film, and utilizing the mythology established by it, Predators succeeds as an entertaining and gruesome revitalization of the franchise.

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