Predators wants to be the sequel John McTiernan’s 1987 movie Predator deserved and while it’s better than any of the other sequels it got, I’m not sure that’s saying much. After Predator 2 and the AvP movies, the bar is pretty low. Still, give director Nimrod Antal’s new take on the franchise some credit: It tries. It really does. That’s more than you can say for any of the previous sequels. There’s an obvious affection for the iconic alien hunters in the material and even more affection for the original film which they’re aiming to be a direct successor to. It’s enough to make it worth watching but not as much as this franchise’s audience deserves.
Unlike all the other attempts at resurrecting Predator, this one at least has a good idea for a story. It starts with an unconscious man, freefalling from a great height. He awakens in mid-air and starts screaming. It’s a genius way to start a movie, or it would be, if this scene were even remotely scary. The camera falls with him, plummeting at an insane pace through whipping wind and dizzying heights. This scene should be terrifying. Or if it isn’t terrifying, it should at least be thrilling. It is neither and it’s just the first of many scenes which seems like they should really work on paper but somehow, when they actually end up on screen, don’t.
Part of the reason the original Predator is so good is that it’s flat out scary. It’s a horror movie more than an action movie and even though you never really get to know the characters in it intimately, you’re rooting for them to survive. It’s a brutal film, full of gore, and violence which only serves to heighten the thing’s gritty reality. You really believe that Dutch and his crew are being stalked by some sort of ultimate, unstoppable killing machine and it’s utterly terrifying. You care about Dutch not because he has a lot of heartfelt talks with his soldiers, but because he’s simply that badass. Predators tries desperately to duplicate all of that and just can’t.
There’s not a single edge of your seat moment anywhere in Predators. It’s just not scary. Not even a little. It never really gets any better than that opening freefall: crazy things keep happening on screen, things which seem like they should be thrilling, but somehow never are. Antal doesn’t really seem to have a knack for this sort of storytelling. He points his camera at what’s happening but he’s either incapable or uninterested in doing anything to build tension.
Maybe we’ve simply seen too many Predator movies, it’s obvious from the beginning what’s going to happen. Take the plot of the original Predator, add a few more aliens, make the human characters less sympathetic, and you have Predators. On paper it shouldn’t be this similar. We’re told repeatedly throughout the film this plot is different. The original movie was about special forces soldiers dropped into a jungle where they encounter a lone Predator. This one is about a group of killers, kidnapped and dropped on an alien planet where they’re hunted for sport. But aside from the occasional bout of mania, the killers act pretty much like any military unit and aside from a single scene in which we see a bunch of weird moons, the alien planet looks exactly like that same old jungle we saw Dutch running around in back in 1987. The film contains more than one Predator, and that should be different, except you never really see more than two of them on screen at any time, and most of the movie’s battles still take place between a single Predator and a single, solitary human.
Predators sets out to pay homage to the original movie by echoing it, but instead it mostly ends up duplicating it. It’s a well made film, but you won’t be thrilled by it, excited by it, or scared by it. Adrien Brody is a surprisingly convincing badass and the sets are actual constructs rather than just a lame, explosion of CGI. That’s nice, but a lot of it just feels dated.
In spite of all this, if you’re a fan, I’d recommend buying a ticket. Even if it’s not exactly under ideal circumstances, it’s great just to see these monsters back in action, the way they’re meant to be used. A brief appearance by Laurence Fishburne gives the movie enough life to keep you interested and even if it’s not shot in a way that’s all that exciting, the movie has a few good ideas. Predator versus Samurai? It’s a sci-fi fan’s wet dream. You’ll see it, enjoy it, and forget about it. It’ll never be as good as it was back in 1987. Maybe it’s time we laid the Predator to rest.