Doug’s Cinematic Firsties is a recurring series wherein Douglas Laman (A.K.A. NerdInTheBasement) will review a well-known classic motion picture that he’s never seen before.
Nearly twenty years after Predator 2, the Predator franchise came back to life (though these aliens had appeared in the two Alien vs. Predator movies) in 2010 under the eye of producer Robert Rodriguez for a movie whose tone couldn’t have been farther away from the cornball nature of Predator 2 unless it had maybe been Cabaret But With Predators. Predators was intended to be a grim n’ gritty tale that took the Predator series into outer space and followed a wholly new cast (though, like Predator 2, there’s a brief verbal reference to the events of the very first Predator movie) of characters trying to survive being hunted by these extra-terrestrial creatures.
The new cast of characters entirely consists of assorted killers from Earth (save for a doctor played by Topher Grace) who come from all sorts of backgrounds, some are death row inmates, some are bodyguards and our lead character is a mercenary by the name of Royce (Adrien Brody) who doesn’t trust anybody. They’ve all been taken from their home planet and dropped into an inescapable alien planet where Predators hunt down humans. If they want even a hope of escaping the murderous clutches of the Predators, these humans are gonna have to work together, a task made difficult by the fact that Royce has zero interest in using his companions for anything more than his own desires or plans.
The character of Royce is the anchor weighing down the ship that is Predators and a lot of that comes from Adrien Brody’s performance. Whereas the first two Predator movies found a lot of their success from their two vastly different leading men, Brody (who got his, currently, last wind as a leading man back in the summer of 2010 with a pair of R-rated sci-fi films, Predators and Splice) just feels all wrong for this part. He’s constantly overselling himself as some macho tough guy with his growly voice and vacant glares, this kind of personality just does not come off as natural for him and that really stands out when he’s acting against the likes of Danny Trejo, Walton Goggins and Mahershala Ali who are all so effortless in bringing their particular characters personalities to life.
Brody is already sinking in the role before the script clumsily tries to give Royce an arc about learning to work with others that I just couldn’t find believable in the slightest. To boot, it’s an arc that ends up undermining one of the more interesting characters (sniper Isabelle played by Alice Braga) to boot! What a shame Royce is such a mess of a protagonist for Predators to follow because most of the rest of the movie ranges from serviceable to even outright enjoyable. Ditching the goofier nature of Predator 2 has its drawbacks (nothing in Predators is as fun as that Predator 2 climax) but going for a more serious tone means that the production value has gone up immensely in between installments, resulting in a highly polished looking production.
Things look handsome under the direction of Nimrod Antal and he especially handles the Predator aliens themselves in a well-done manner. The decision to still go with a guy in a suit rather than utilize a wholly CGI Predator lends the human/Predator fight scenes a sense of engaging tangibility while going a more practical route with these creatures allows the Predators themselves to feel real enough to convey a palpable sense of menace. Antal also decides to eschew a lot of distracting filmmaking elements, namely shaky-cam, that were prominent in action films at the start of this decade that allow for a sense of visual clarity even during nighttime hunting sequences.
The script for Predators (apparently based on an idea Robert Rodriguez had years ago though he’s not credit at all for the story) moves along at a decent clip and comes up with some fun action scenes, though a good chunk of the action sequences in Predators suffer from the overstuffed sensibility of the overall screenplay. There are so many cool ideas to be found in Predators, including an action scene built around a human/Predator team-up, but too many of them never get enough screentime to feel properly realized. Maybe that’s why I left Predators with a strange sense of feeling reasonably satisfied with what I had just watched while also feeling like some potential had been left on the table, particularly the potential in the miscast lead character.