'Sequel' is such a dirty word these days. And 'franchise,' well that just conjures up unwanted images of appallingly bad adaptations of Marvel comics, or perhaps Michael Bay paradoxically making big robots fighting somehow seem really boring. No, the hot buzz-word these days is 'reboot.' The movie industry is much like the world of politics, you see, in that you can't ever just come out and admit you fucked up. No, instead you must pretend like any catastrophic cock-ups are part of some larger, calculated strategy, and that everything is in fact going exactly according to plan. So you reboot. You go back to the source, back to what worked, and forge ahead in a bold new direction. The trouble is, it's one thing for a studio or a filmmaker to turn a blind eye to everything that's preceded their movie, but getting the audience – the fans – to do the same is a much bigger ask.
The brief given to Hungarian helmer Nimrod Antal from producer Robert Rodriguez was clearly to get back-to-basics; back to slow-burning suspense; back to primal rage; back to the overwhelming sense of style and confidence that elevated a B movie creature feature into something iconic and enduring. Both Rodriguez and Antal (who is more than capable of this) are in love with the source material – clearly, and demonstrably in love with it. Yet such is the deference shown to John McTiernan's 1987 original, in both design and content, that they end up shackling themselves to it like a boulder so that all that ends up being accomplished is a jaded restaging of large chunks of the first outing, only with lesser actors and a much weaker script. Ironically, in an effort to give fans what he thinks they want, Antal has made to so the less you can immediately recall from Schwarzenegger's rumble in the jungle, the better off you'll be.
So much here is simply like for like, from the dense jungle stalk-and-slash, to the hero first getting clued-up, then muddied-up, for a primal climatic showdown. There's a big Russian lug with a mini-gun, in for Jesse Ventura's big American lug with a mini-gun. A Japanese Yakuza guy who understands the warrior code sniffs the air suspiciously, in for Sonny Ladham's American Indian who understands the warrior code…There is a chatty one, cracking bad jokes…You get the idea. Well intentioned as Antal clearly was, he has fallen face first over the thin line between homage and crashed down firmly in the territory of pointless, re-enactment. It's such a shame, too, because he's got a great eye, and never for one second do you suspect that Kolekole, Hawaii isn't the far side of our galaxy. No, the problem lies firmly with the script and the overwhelmingly weak characterization.
What both (pre–AVP) Predator movies had, which was crucial, was a pre-existing dynamic. Whether it was spec-ops guys on a mission, or the LAPD trying to combat a gang war, it was an organic situation interrupted. Arbitrarily dropping seven strangers into the jungle leaves you with no option but to have them all spout painful reams of exposition to one another. The sole bright spot is, remarkably, Adrien Brody, who having logged some serious gym time and sporting a snarling, cynical attitude, is by far the best thing on display. But even that aside, this movie is called 'Predators,' so where are they?? So much time is spent with our intrepid band of dead men walking, running around, and explaining the plot to one another with the titular creatures are conspicuous by their absence. The anticipation very quickly gives way to frustration. Much as Rodriguez clearly wishes that we didn't, we know exactly what's going on here. We know what these creatures are, and we know what they're doing. So, get on with it and show us something new.
Even the much vaunted predator v2.0 – supposedly to the original predator as a wolf is to a dog – seems designed far more in terms of merchandising potential that anything it might reveal about this enigmatic, contradictory (they're lizards with laser guns) species, and their many mysterious rituals. That's the real crime here; that with four movies, two video games, and numerous comic books and novelizations to draw from, they manage to show us nothing that hasn't been done either before and/or to better effect. Perhaps that will all come in the sequel (whoops, sorry!), strongly hinted at here, which will doubtlessly arrive like clockwork in the summer of 2012, by which time the udders of the patient and mistreated audience for this long-abused property will be full once more and primed for yet more cynical milking.
Starring: Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Danny Trejo, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov, Mahershalahashbaz Ali
Director: Nimrod Antal
Runtime: 107 Minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox