In the run up to the release of The Predator in just a few short weeks, I’m revisiting the Predator sequels released so far; looking at what works and doesn’t work before finally sitting down to see if Shane Black can offer the ultimate Predator sequel. As I explored last week, Predator 2 is consistently considered to be a mixed bag. Opinions towards it are largely negative, with bright spots few and far between but a decent third act, and not many seem to defend the film online. Predators however, the second sequel to the 1987 original and made over 20 years later, divides opinion quite dramatically. There are those that love the film and see it as a worthy sequel to the Arnie flick while there are people that think it’s without merit and even worse than Predator 2. I’ve had varying experiences with the film each time I watch it, and this time was no different.
Compared with Predator 2, this film has the much better premise. Instead of trying to remake the first film in a different location, Predators… okay I guess it does try and remake the first film in a different location but the location is different enough that it works. Instead of Earth, the action takes place on an unknown alien planet (which looks a lot like Hawaii) which the titular Predators have turned into an unparalleled game reserve. Instead of travelling out to distant solar systems, the Predators now kidnap alien species and dump them on the planet to hunt. And that’s where the film begins, with the most dangerous humans alive plucked from their respective battlefields and dropped off on the planet; the hunters becoming the hunted with the human predators (see, the movie must be good because the title can refer to more than one thing) becoming prey.
So, a really great premise. The issues come with the execution. Don’t get me wrong, I like the film quite a lot, but there’s so much untapped potential it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed. We get an interesting bunch of characters but many stray too far into stereotypes. We get the dehumanised mercenary, the cartel enforcer, the Yakuza assassin and the Spetsnaz soldier who, like every Russian soldier in every piece of entertainment media ever created, is called Nikolai. What if the characters were all from different time periods and had been put in stasis until they were needed? You could have a medieval knight, a shogun, a soldier from World War 2, a pirate and a character from the present day having to work together and come to terms with what’s happened to them, each offering unique perspectives on the odyssey that befalls them. While it would have to occur later into the film so that there could still be the slow reveal that they are on an alien world, the group could also team up with a different type of extra-terrestrial that’s also being hunted. The character could probably have replaced Laurence Fishburne’s role. Fishburne plays a character who has survived by himself on the planet for a few years, being isolated and driven mad. As it stands it’s a stock character in need of some nuance or edge but the character was going to be either Dutch from the first film or Mike from the second but both Schwarzenegger and Glover declined to appear, much like Schwarzenegger refused a cameo in The Predator.
Adrian Brody’s mercenary Royce is the film’s lead and he does a fine job despite delivering every line in his best Batman voice, but it’s Alice Braga who’s the more interesting lead as Isabelle, an IDF sniper desperately trying to hold on to her humanity on an alien world filled with predators, both human and otherwise. My issue with the characters is that considering they are the world’s deadliest and most dangerous killers they get along really quite well. They fight initially but a few minutes in differences are dealt with and there’s little interpersonal conflict for the rest of the film. Sure, there’s a secret serial killer among the group that tries to kill the others in the third act but apart from that they all become best buddies. Their interactions are all too clean; it’s as if they know they are characters in a movie and they make their decisions simply to move the plot forward rather than being true to their characters.
There’s a lot of conflict regarding the pacing of the film and, while the second act lulls unnecessarily, I love the slow build of the first act. The film is only 8 years old at this point but I’m sure that if it was made today it would be drastically different. Instead of 35 minutes of building atmosphere and tension, which is what I like, there would be an action-filled prologue probably seeing every character fighting on Earth before getting abducted by the Predators. From the trailers it seems like The Predator will likely start with an action sequence before we get any sense of tone or character development. What I do agree with is that once the Predators do show up around the 35-minute mark they disappear again for far too long. Just like in the original film, when a Predator is introduced they need to stay a constant threat to keep the tension up, with characters always being on edge and believing the hunter could be watching them from any of the surrounding trees.
And in Predators these aren’t just regular Predators, they’re Super Predators! A stronger, bigger and more dangerous sub-species of Predator that have an unexplained “blood feud” with the regular Predators. This a trend in Hollywood which I just don’t like. The perceived need to make monsters we’ve seen before even bigger and scarier than the last time we saw them. In Jurassic World, the T-Rex apparently isn’t scary enough so we have to have a genetically-engineered dinosaur be the big baddie of the movie. It feels like cheating to me. If you execute it correctly the originals are scary enough and just because we’ve seen them before doesn’t mean we’re tired of them.
I will admit however that the reveal of the Predator chained up at the Predator camp is a cool twist but there are ways to keep that in the film without having to have Super Predators. He could have just been a Predator that failed in his quest to hunt and kill, much like the one in Predator 2, and is being punished by his brethren with an unhonourable death. That’s enough reason to have them fight without this weird blood feud between sub-species. A Predator-on-Predator fight is cool to see but it’s also a little awkward. Considering they are large men in bulky costumes, they move a little slow, although I’ll take that over big CGI monstrosities any day of the week, and it made me think of the now laughed-at Gorn fight from the Star Trek episode “Arena”.
Apparently, the Super Predators were originally going to hunt not just for honour and trophies but in order to harvest the DNA of their prey to make themselves stronger but this was cut from the script. This sounds an awful lot like what we know about the new Predator in The Predator but will that Predator be a regular Predator that’s modified its DNA or a Super Predator that’s done the same? I realise I’ve used the word “Predator” far too many times but I feel it’s too late to stop and use the actual name of their species, which is “Yautja”, instead. I appreciate the effort that went into creating the unique look and role each Predator has in the film but we just don’t get enough time spent with them or just some good shots looking at them to be able to tell them apart. It’s like they have chosen different classes in an online shooter and even have names like that too, from “Tracker” to “Falconer” to “Berserker”.
Much like Predator 2, the third act of Predators is really strong, and homages the original while putting its own twist on things. I like that the final fights parallel each other with human vs human, Predator vs Predator and then finally human vs Predator. I enjoy the unresolved nature of the ending too with our two lead characters left to an uncertain fate but with the satisfaction of seeing them become more human from their deadly interactions with the alien. The music in the film is also great and many of the original film’s themes return which I hope is also the case in The Predator. Overall, I think Predators, while still frustratingly unfulfilled in some areas, is by far the better sequel but who knows, maybe in a few weeks The Predator will be at the top of the list.
What’s your opinion on Predators? Which is the best Predator sequel and are you looking forward to The Predator? Let me know in the comments and geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.