For a few decades now, Robert Rodriguez has been one of the finest producers of pulp cinema. He’s made From Dusk Till Dawn, one of the best vampire movies made before vampires became sexy; Sin City, which was a literary reinvention of the hardboiled noir genre, stylized in the mode of the comic books from which it was adapted; Grindhouse, a love letter to gorey and stupid movies from the 70s; and also a few movies about men with guns shooting things. It’s high time he made a science fiction movie.
Someone smart gave him the Predators franchise. Rodriguez opted not to make the film himself. Instead, he produced the new sequel, Predators, and hired relatively unknown director Nimrod Antal to direct an amateur screenplay. Oddly, the result is a film more tense, serious, and mature than one Rodriguez might have made himself. It still has men with large guns killing ugly aliens.
The movie opens with a character played by Adrien Brody in free fall. He’s falling toward an unknown jungle, and he doesn’t know how he got there. Somehow, he figures out that he has a parachute on. Soon after, he meets a group of really tough badasses who also parachuted into this jungle, and they discover that they’re actually on an alien planet.
Roger Ebert says, “Predators may be the first film in history to open with a deus ex machina.” Ebert is not entirely wrong in that the free fall opening is convenient to the plot, but he ignores the fact that this is a rare movie to open in media res, or in the middle of the action. This story opens with action and intrigue, and the pace never lets up.
The badasses Brody meets up with include a Russian soldier, a convict, a Mexican cartel enforcer, an African death squad officer, a ninja, and a female IDF sniper. They are all badasses. You’ve probably seen them in other movies, but you’ll only be able to figure out where if you’re a nerd. The Jewish woman is not necessarily cast as a romantic interest, but rather to emphasize that the casting was equal opportunity. Over the course of the movie, most of the badasses die. They die in various exciting ways. As with most sci-fi movies, the black guy is one of the first to go.
At the start of the movie, the predators themselves, who are aliens who for some reason like to hunt things, are an unseen menace. They attack the badasses with their dogs before appearing themselves. When they do appear, they are disappointing.
Modern special effects should have made these predators look terrifying and real. And they do, when they stand stagnant and look menacing. But when they actually have to fight the human badasses and each other, their movement is slow and stocky. The scene where the ninja sword-fought a predator – as he was inevitably going to do – relied on editing to show the action, and so it was not shot like a proper sword fight. Director Antal had to rely heavily on editing in all the fight scenes, and because of this the third act was less exciting than the two that preceded it.
But Adrien Brody takes his shirt off. He slathers himself in mud. His frame is bulky. He is not as bulky as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s once was, but he is as convincing at punching and shooting guns at aliens. And that is what people should pay to see this movie for.
That the first two acts are intelligent and smartly paced makes the ticket price a bargain.