If there has ever been a franchise sequel I’ve been longing for, it could be none other than Predators, a standalone installment that would rid the stink of both recent Alien vs. Predator pictures and delve further into the universe of a race of alien hunter-killers.  Not since the so-so 1990 film Predator 2 has a proper sequel to the original 1987 actioner been released.  Twenty years later with the help of producer Robert Rodriguez, the series seemed to be in store for a worthy recharge of the batteries.  All the elements were in place for a fantastic action-movie experience, but the movie is a little  reserved, hesitant and feels slapped together.

The best that can be said about Predators is that it starts off with a bang.  As the film opens, Adrien Brody (yes, Oscar-winner Adrien Brody) falls from the sky, unconscious and unaware, that is until he wakes up mid-fall, and his parachute bursts open as he hits the ground with a thud.  In the middle of a jungle, other characters soon follow plunging to earth.  A handful of characters, unaware of where they are or how they got there, soon realize they have something in common: there all hard-boiled killers.  A U.S. mercenary, a Yakuza samurai, a death-row inmate, a warlord, a blacks ops sniper, and a few others culminate a group of prey for three nasty predator hunters.  Royce (Brody), the mercenary, soon comes to realize their purpose in this jungle, seemingly a Predator game preserve planet, and ends up taking lead in the fight against the alien hunters with hopes of finding a way back to Earth.

Robert Rodriguez was apparently given free reign on this project, producing at his very own Troublemaker Studios without studio interference.  Nimrod Antal (Armored, Vacancy) actually directs the film, and does a decent enough job establishing the Predator world, and making Predators look and sound like a sequel to the original Predator. Early on, I was very pleased to find out the filmmakers decided to reuse Alan Silvestri’s original musical score for this sequel.  And with a return to a jungle environment, the film at least attempts to please fans of John McTiernan’s film.  But that’s about where Predators stops working in our favor.

Most of the characters occupying the story disappoint.  Aside from a surprisingly solid and bulky Adrien Brody (trying desperately to fill in the shoes of Arnold Schwarzenegger) delivering a favorable performance, the rest of the characters are extremely disappointing—or at least they are written terribly.  Even Laurence Fishburne, who is introduced midway into the picture, comes in strong, and quickly descends into a stupid ten-minute segment, as his character has been trapped on the Predator planet for ten years, surviving off of whatever he can scavage and store.  He harbors Brody and the other human inhabitants running for their lives, only to exit the movie quickly and provide little substance.  The same can be said for the other characters as well.  They are no more than cardboard cutouts designed by the script to be shooting targets for the predators.  As a group of skilled human killers, apparently selected for these particular skills, I hoped these people would collaborate in hunting the predators and fighting back, but they had nothing of interest to add to the plot or any of the chases.

This brings me to the Predators themselves.  It’s as if they’re an afterthought, as they are extraordinarily underused.  The original 1987 Predator was a thoughtful, skillful hunter, utilizing his environment, and was frankly pretty darn terrifying.  Rodriguez, himself, declared Predators to Predator as Aliens was to Alien.  I’m sorry to say he is mistaking.  There is far more suspense and more action in the original.  Not to say that Antal’s film completely bores, as the action sequences are filmed decent enough and quite gritty, but the choreography (especially in a scene where the Yakuza samurai swordfights a Predator) feels dull and sloppy.  The Predators have no interesting weapons, no personalities, and nothing of interest to learn about them.  I did appreciate seeing some different creatures running amok on the alien planet, such as Predator dogs, and otherworldly species as well.  But there’s not quite enough of that explored.  I ultimately started noticing that anything that was introduced in Predators that I wanted more of, quickly disappeared. And any time I wanted the plot to explore ideas that came to fruition, the movie veered off into nonsensical dialogue that goes nowhere.  In fact, nothing is explained about how these human characters even arrive on this distant planet.  In some ways that is okay by me, as it presents ideas that could be explored in another movie, but I highly doubt the filmmakers ever intend to address any of these possibilities.

Overall, Predators was a disappointment.  It’s not as bad as the AVP disasters, but it’s not as good as Predator 2, and definitely not even close to the original Predator.  It is obvious the film is a simple miscalculation and probably came together too quickly.  However, enough interesting ideas are introduced—they just go unused or underdeveloped.  Another sequel could tighten things up, as Predators ends with somewhat of a cliffhanger.  I definitely would love to see another installment tie up the loose ends, and deliver a much more suspenseful premise.  All die-hard Predator fans should see this sequel, as there’s enough here to keep you interested, but not quite enough to thrill you.  Here’s hoping for a better follow-up.

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