Monday, May 27, 2013

Film Review: Predators (2010)

As promised, I conclude the stand alone trio of Predator films with 2010's entry: Predators. Easily better than Predator 2 as a sequel and better than Predator as a movie, Predators actually has a cast of developed characters with personalities and history which all feeds who they are and how they react to the situation in which they find themselves. While none of these characters will be particularly unfamiliar to fans of the action genre, that doesn't mean they're boring or unengaging. Actually, the opposite is pretty true. I found myself, for the first time in this franchise, actually invested in the characters. In the first two films I didn't really care who lived or who died, but in this movie I was sad when basically any character died. I mean, counting through the cast real quick...

Three. I did not care about three characters. One of whom redeems himself in his last minute, and two of whom I did care about until they turned out to be snakes.

That's just the humans, though. The aliens themselves, well. This film introduces a new breed of Yautja which has evidently been warring with the more familiar aliens for quite a while. These new Yautja, referred to as "Black" Yautja in the fan community, are slightly larger, much stronger, and more agile than their classic counterparts, and they seem to exhibit a much less honorable code of conduct. They also come equipped with their own brand of technological hunting tools, most of which feel more primitive than what we've seen before, although there are instances of technology which appears more advanced.

These Yautja are less interested in hunting creatures in their natural habitats and instead choose to import animals to their galactic game preserve, which appears to be one of many moons as opposed to being its own planet. Despite advertisements and early descriptions claiming this "Planet" to be the Predator home world, it isn't anything of the sort. The Predators come every season in a group of three and establish a hunting camp while they go about slaughtering that season's prey. As typical for the series, this is probably some kind of rite of passage (although these Predators seem to be rather seasoned themselves).

Additionally, there is a classic Predator who serves as a captive of the others. I find it interesting that the Black Yuatja have taken one of their enemies prisoner as opposed to simply killing it, something which they later prove very capable of doing. It might be that they intended to use him as some kind of gambit, or maybe they just enjoyed humiliating him. Not sure, but it seemed oddly out of character for the Predators which we have grown familiar with, and more so for this breed, which is characterized as being far more brutal.

Despite their emphasis on the kill over the hunt (which begs the question of whether or not these Predators were at all inspired by the Bad Bloods introduced in the related comics and novels), the Black Yautja do exhibit some honor, in one notable case of having more than the previous Predators. One of the humans brought to the game reserve is a Yakuza clan member who finds a katana which belonged to a shogun who had been abducted centuries prior. This Yakuza man challenges one of the Black Yautja to a melee-exclusive conflict, similar to Billy in Predator and King Willy in Predator 2. Unlike those two battles, however, we are actually treated to a really incredible duel between these two honor-bound warriors which serves as an homage to the amazing action films of Asian origin, particularly the fantastical samurai and ninja films of Japan.

While this film is good as a SciFi film, it doesn't quite live up to my expectations for a Predator film. It kind of missed the mark on that "Predator" feel. The previous movies had this feeling of being alone despite taking place in fairly crowded environments, and yet that feeling is never present in Predators despite the protagonists being far more alone than any of their predecessors had been. There also wasn't quite enough examination on the side of either party. The previous Predator titles focused quite heavily on humans learning about Yautja, and Yautja learning about humans. I can understanding reducing this focus because it's ground which has already been covered, but the premise for Predators introduces whole new ground which isn't really utilized to its fullest advantage: the game reserve.

Our protagonists are dropped in the middle of an alien world potentially galaxies away and it... happens to look just like every other Earth rain forest? What's the deal? I understand going for something with a feel much more like the original Predator movie, and I get that maybe there were some budgetary concerns, but this is such a missed opportunity. Why bother going all the way into space and teasing a glimpse at the Predator home worlds and then not give us anything even close? This was their chance to give us a truly amazing setting equally as barbaric as the antagonists we've come to love. Even if the reserve wasn't ever intended to be on the home world, maybe this moon happens to orbit the Predator planet. What kind of environment would these creatures have evolved from? That's what should have been done here, and replacing the exploration of the Predator character with the exploration of its world would have been fantastic.

They did this a tiny bit by introducing an environment which is explained to be some kind of drilling facility which had been abandoned. We're never told what species had been drilling or why they had left their station, but we get to explore it a little bit... Unfortunately it, too, looks extremely Earthly and familiar. What it lacks in visual, though, it does introduce in intrigue. I mean, why was there a drilling station there? Why was it abandoned? Was it a Yautjan drill? What were they drilling for? Did the captive classic Predator work at this station and get himself kidnapped by the Black Yautja? Why did the Yautja not continue the drilling if there was some kind of precious resource hidden within this moon? Nothing answered, unfortunately, because this movie doesn't care about any of that.

This movie cares about a group of aliens killing people. So that's what it does. It does it splendidly, at that. For the first time in the series (note, that I have been and will be not counting Alien vs. Predator in this review, as that is kind of its own franchise and while I love what it adds to the mythos of the Predator, it's not what this film was aspiring to relate to) we have compelling human characters, cool villain characters, and the chance to explore an alien world and the home culture of these creatures we love to hate. But we don't do that. We just kill, talk about killing, and kill some more. I really shouldn't have expected more, but it is kind of a shame.

To be honest, I'd love a movie focusing on the Yautja that didn't have such a focus on killing. These are extremely fascinating creatures, and I think that quality alone is what has made them such powerful forces in pop culture. I think that without whatever aspect it is that makes the Predator a likable character despite its awful villainy, it would have remained nothing more than a B-Movie from the 80s. But it does have this quality, and it's that quality we expect when we see a Predator film. Well, this movie was largely devoid of that quality, so now I'd like to see a movie that takes that quality and amplifies it by ten.

I did have one other small beef with this film: it was gory. Not excessive gory, like what you'd expect if you went to see Saw or anything like that, but its gore was definitely a couple steps further than any of the previous films (this time including AvP). That's okay in itself, because it would mean they kept it to a fairly realistic level of gore, but there are a couple of instances of extreme stupid gore for the sake of extreme stupid gore. Emphasis on the stupid.

In one instance when we are introduced to the hunting dogs these Predators use (the dogs are a cool addition with a terrible design, by the way), one of them is shot in the head and promptly... explodes. Like a balloon. It just pops, organs everywhere. This was stupid, and in that same segment several other dogs are shot and killed without this explosion. It was needlessly grotesque shock factor. The other instance comes much later in the film where a Predator reaches into a man's back and rips out his spine with the skull on top, like something you'd see in Mortal Kombat as a fatality. As we all know, this can't happen, and Mortal Kombat is stupid gore for the sake of stupid gore. I hated it. Don't do stupid gore in a franchise that wasn't built on stupid gore.

Oh, also, there's needless alien decapitation which reminded me an awful lot of the ending of Underworld. These decapitations are also pretty stupid. Just thought you should know.

I don't know. I guess I just hate needless and outlandish brutality in a franchise which, despite being savage and brutal, has typically kept itself classy enough to avoid being insultingly moronic. This film--like Predator 2, in some ways--has decided that it doesn't like wearing a tux and would rather... rip out spinal whips.

Generally though, I found this experience to be more than enjoyable. Predators has earned itself a place to stay in my DVD library, and it has earned itself a seven out of ten. I was thinking about giving this an eight for its superb cast of characters, but it really left me wanting for something bigger and better than what it was. Really, though, you have to see it for yourself and decide if it fits the bill or not. I can't be the one to do that for you. Not this time (but definitely most other times).

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