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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Spiderman 3

Spidy 3 posterSpiderman 3 is everything Spiderman 2 should have been: fast-paced, hard-hitting, and dazzling. While Spiderman 2 was a testament to just how little you can do with plot and philosophy, Spiderman 3 stands as a shining example of just how much can be accomplished with mindless entertainment.

Spiderman 2 tried to cram about 10 years worth of comic book storyline into two hours, and wound up with so many subplots that it couldn’t do any of them well. Case in point: J. Jonah Jamison’s two radical changes of heart about Spiderman, separated by about 10 seconds. Worse yet, it didn’t leave room for any action.


The kickoff to one of six stellar action sequences in Spiderman 3.

In Spiderman 3, there’s no shortage of action. Whether Spidey (Toby Maguier) is diving through cranes, or surfing behind a runaway armored car, the thrills keep coming. The writers did a good job of advancing Peter’s fighting skill from movie to movie. This one marks the first time he’s fired web bolts and used a few other tactics.

In between scampering over rooftops and shaking off impossible blows, the characters find a little time for 90210-ish sexual tension. Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) falls out of love with Peter, then in love with Harry Osbourne (James Franco), then he makes her… oh, who really cares? This is definitely a busy movie, but it never loses sight of the fact that it’s all about the action.

When someone turns evil, they comb their hair forward.

When you turn evil, you change your hair.

There are plenty of villains, too. Harry becomes the new Goblin (the great Willem Dafoe graces the screen once more in a hallucination). Topher Grace comes aboard as the sinister Venom, and Thomas Haden Church gives a grainy performance as the Sandman, one of those comic book characters who should probably never have come to the big screen.

Church’s acting is not exactly stellar, but then, he doesn’t have much of a character to work with. He’s an escaped convict who stumbles into a particle research zone, where he is somehow atomized without being killed. This enables him to turn into sand, and seems to make him invincible, although, he still winces and grimaces an awful lot when he fights Spiderman. The police suspect him of Uncle Ben’s killing, and that moment is revisited several times in the movie. After slugging it out at the final battle, he apologizes to Peter, after which Peter acknowledges having done terrible things himself and forgives him. Sandman then blows away as a cloud of sand, leaving us with no indication that he intends to give up his life of crime, and the question of why the ridiculous villain gets to survive for another movie, while Spiderman’s evil twin dies.

Oh, well. My friends and I talked for hours after this film debuted, and every

Perhaps no villain is more intimidating than the evil in one's self.

Perhaps no villain is more intimidating than the evil in one's self.

change we proposed raised problems of its own. Venom should have had a bigger role, but the film was too full as it was. Sandman could have been left out, but that would have ruined the two-on-two at the end. Sandman could have been pure evil instead of a sympathetic villain, but that takes a crucial moment out of Peter’s journey with the black costume. Heck, it was fine as it was.

A fourth movie is reportedly in the works. There is no mention of the Sandman returning, thank goodness. The two most popular picks seem to be the Lizard and Carnage, although if the filmmakers can get the rights to the Kingpin from Fox, that wouldn’t be a bad move. Note to Marvel Studios: I’m all for more web-slinging action, but for gosh sakes, keep the soap opera stuff out of it.

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