With a nose like a Toblerone segment and a geek chic sensibility that gives him plenty of indie star appeal, Adrien Brody isn’t the man you’d expect to find at the helm of the Predator series reboot. But by displaying the effects of a year’s supply of protein powder like the wounds from a shiny hotdog-laden shotgun blast to the chest and stomach, he certainly looks the part. The viewer’s thumb creeps further upwards as he growls most of his lines in a manner reminiscent of Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, or in fact any film. Whether you choose to stick your partially erect thumb up in appreciation of Predators, or rather turn it around and jab it in your own eye as a form of protest, will largely depend on whether you think the action movie peaked in the 80s. I’m an embarrassed action fan, and I constantly cite Die Hard as the pinnacle of the genre. But I like to think that over twenty years of evolution has changed the genre beyond what the generic adequacy of Predators might suggest. Paradoxically it was Robert Rodriguez who instigated many of these changes, and his role as producer of this film only intensifies the injustice of Predators’ blandness.
It starts well, with Brody’s gruff ape Royce free falling whilst unconscious, only to wake up and wrestle with a parachute before crashing through foliage in a deserted, dense jungle. Heavily armed, Royce quickly meets up with an improbably diverse bunch of roughly hewn characters from various war zones and questionable backgrounds who have been dumped from the sky and parachuted into the unknown. Simple premise that could theoretically work well. It’s at this point, five minutes in, that the biscuit tin of ideas turns out to be empty, except for a few custard creams.*
The gradual whittling down of the motley crew begins almost immediately, although you’d be pressed to actually care about any of these ethically corrupt, verbally stunted characters. Eventually they work out they’re being hunted on an alien planet by a small band of death-loving, crab-faced creatures, and they bump into the shamanic but sadly underused Noland (Laurence Fishburne) before being confronted with a twist that’s about as twisty as a Roman road.
Like the early excitement generated by plotting, the action is at first handled with a modicum of originality, and the sound effects are top class, particularly for the arsenal of unreasonably large weapons. But this too becomes less impressive over the course of the film, and the violence feels more arbitrary and forced with each new scene. I constantly wondered whether or not I was supposed to be scared, as the director and writers have somehow managed to wring any semblance of tension from what should be a fundamentally tense situation. That’s about as harsh an idictment of this film as I can muster, and although the series isn’t technically from horrific origins, Arnie’s final match-up with the Predator in the original did at least emphasise the insignificance of one melon-muscled man against a bigger, smarter opponent. Predators never gets close to repeating this trick.
Predators is perfectly fine if you are willing to accept its many shortcomings, and I think I could probably watch it again, if only for the comfort of predictability. But it’s not going to win new fans for the franchise, and it certainly won’t make its stars shine any brighter.
*You can insert your own least desired biscuit type here.