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Talking Movies [Predator Month]: Predators

In 2019, there was a fan movement to christen June 12th as “Predator Day” to officially celebrate the release of the classic science-fiction action/horror Predator (McTiernan, 1987). This provides the perfect excuse to revisit this under-rated franchise and, this year, I’m dedicating every Tuesday to sci-fi’s greatest alien hunter.

This review has been supported by Chiara Cooper.
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Released: 9 July 2010
Director: Nimród Antal
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $40 million
Stars: Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov, Derek Mears, and Laurence Fishburne

The Plot:
Former United States Special Operations Forces veteran Royce (Brody) is just one of a handful of soldiers, criminals, and mercenaries forced to work together when they are suddenly deposited on an alien world that acts as a game reserve for two warring tribes of extraterrestrial killers.

The Background:
Predator may have started life as the ridiculous concept of pitting Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) against an alien foe, but it quickly evolved from a B-movie with a budget that had Jean-Claude Van Damme running around a jungle in a big bug suit into a box office hit regarded as one of the best of its genre. After a long period of development, a sequel was finally produced, though star Arnold Schwarzenegger declined to returnand Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1990) failed to match its predecessor’s box office despite positive reviews. Although the Predator franchise was well represented in comic books, novels, and videogames thanks to the efforts of Dark Horse Comics, it would be twenty years before a new movie was produced. However, producer Robert Rodriguez had actually pitched an idea for a third Predator film back in 1994, only to be rejected as his idea was too costly for the studio; although Rodriguez was surprised when the studio dusted off his script and contacted him about producing it some fifteen years later, he set about getting the wheels in motion for his new film, which aimed to ignore the sequels and crossovers that had followed the original classic. Although Schwarzenegger again declined to be a part of the project, Rodriguez and director Nimród Antal put together an ensemble cast that audiences would journey alongside, and drafted KNB EFX’s Howard Berger to design the creatures’ new suits, which were purposely designed to be faithful to Stan Winston’s original creature designs. With a $127.2 million box office gross, Predators was a minor hit that received mixed to average reviews; some praised it as a solid follow-up to the original while others criticised the characters as mere cannon fodder. Disappointingly, this meant that Predators became another under-rated entry in the franchise and hopes for a direct sequel were quashed when the studio again opted for a soft re-quel to the first film in 2018.

The Review:
I remember being really excited when Predators was announced. Although it took me some time to appreciate Predator 2, I was a big fan of the series and never quite understood why it hadn’t received the same amount of love as the Alien franchise (Various, 1979 to present) when it came to live-action films. Hell, I even enjoyed AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem (The Brothers Strause, 2007) simply because it meant seeing the Predator on the big screen and in a central role, so my anticipation was quite high for this re-quel, which hits a lot of the same beats as the influential first film while taking the franchise in an interesting direction. We see these call-backs to Predator throughout the film (one of their unfortunate victims lays traps that are almost exactly the same as those set by Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer (Schwarzenegger) in the first film, and the first film’s events are explicitly referenced at one point) but they’re actually thrust right at the viewer’s face right from the beginning when the familiar title font flies onto the screen alongside Alan Silvestri’s iconic Predator theme, which composer John Debney samples and draws heavily from for the remainder of the movie.

Royce starts off as a cold-hearted survivor willing to whatever it takes to escape the game preserve.

Also like the first film, Predators is very much an ensemble piece built around soldier-turned-mercenary Royce, a gruff and highly adaptable individual who is the first character we’re introduced to (but, because of his guarded nature, the last character whose name we learn). Rather than being a musclebound beefcake armed with a variety of one-liners or a jaded city cop, Royce is a much more realistic type of soldier; wiry and tough, he carries himself in a much more believable way and reacts to his unbelievable situation far more calmly than the other characters, who greet each other with hostility and even gunfire. Royce’s entire mindset seems to be centred around a philosophy of “simple, but effective”, which is reflected in his choice of weapon, an AA-12 automatic 12-gauge shotgun that delivers high-impact rounds to shred his targets. Although he is reserved about opening up to the others, he immediately takes charge of the group and tries to figure out where they are and what’s happened to them simply because he needs all of the knowledge and information he can gather to best figure out a game plan for survival…and to escape. His first instinct is to get to high ground, and he doesn’t really care whether the others follow him or not since he much prefers to work alone. Surly, perceptive (he immediately identifies each character’s background and speciality), and reluctant to bond with the others, Royce is nevertheless easily the most composed of the group and a bastion of common sense and adaptability. His character arc is learning to actually give a damn about others as he’s only teaming up with them for extra firepower, muscle, and to give his foes other targets to hit; secretive and deceitful, Royce has no qualms about using the others as bait to either draw out or better understand their enemy, readily leaves the doomed behind, and even makes a deal with the “Classic Predator” (Mears) to ensure his escape from the planet in exchange for freeing the creature.

Isabelle plays peacemaker and believes their greatest strength is their compassion and humanity.

In comparison, Isabelle (Braga) is much more compassionate; although she has her suspicions about the others upon first sight, she goes along with them simply because she has no other options available. A highly trained sniper from the Israel Defense Forces, Isabelle has “seen most” jungles and is the first to realise that they’ve been dumped in a place that is beyond their expertise simply based on the heat and the topography. While she’s the only female character within the group, she’s just as tough and capable of any of them and isn’t treated with kid gloves or ever presented as a damsel in need of rescue; she’s more than proficient in a firefight thanks to her sniper rifle but, more than any of the others, assumes the role of a peacemaker in order to emphasise that they need to work together to survive. Isabelle also brings a level of knowledge to the group that the others lack; since she’s aware of the events of the first film, she knows something of the Predator’s appearance and tactics, which gives Royce the additional information he requires to be able to prepare for the creatures and even battle the “Berserker Predator” (Derek Mears) in the finale. Isabelle is the most compassionate of the group; she believes that helping others is a sign of strength rather than weakness, which often causes her and the more cold-hearted Royce to butt heads as he’s perfectly happy sacrificing the others, putting them in danger, or leaving them behind when they’re injured or dying as long as it means he (and whoever’s left) survives a little while longer. This means she faces an uphill battle with Royce, who’s callous nature makes him almost as bad as their extraterrestrial foes, but her compassionate nature ends up biting her in the ass; when Edwin (Grace) is injured by a Predator trap, Isabelle insists on helping him, unaware of his true malicious nature, and is thus left relying on Royce, who ends up being more loyal and dependable than is first evident.

Nikolai protects Edwin out of gratitude, allowing him to deceive the others of his true, sadistic nature.

Edwin and Nikolai (Taktarov) form a friendship after the self-proclaimed doctor keeps him from being poisoned. Though a large, intimidating man who cuts a formidable figure with his high-powered M134 Minigun, Nikolai is softened by his family and his gratitude towards Edwin, who he protects as thanks for saving his life and since he (as in Edwin) seems so defenceless and out of place there. At first, Edwin seems to have been placed amongst the group as a kind of field medic to give them a fighting chance against the Predators on the alien world; his medical and botanical knowledge come in handy, but he’s crippled by fear and is largely a burden to the group since he has no combat experience. Although he seems to be just a normal man surrounded by trained (or compulsive) killers, with little in common with them (which is fantastically evident in his amusing “bitch raping” talk with Stans (Goggins)), he eventually proves to be a wily and sadistic character in disguise. The first cracks in his façade appear when he leaves Nikolai to be skewered by the “Tracker Predator” (Carey Jones) and left with no choice but to blow himself and the creature up with grenades. While you could argue that Edwin stood no chance of helping his brutish Russian buddy, he later appropriates a photo of Nikolai’s family as a means of guilt-tripping Isabelle into helping him when he’s injured by a Predator trap before revealing the true extent of his twisted nature in a surprise development in the final act. It turns out that Edwin is a devious and perverse serial killer who has been manipulating and using the others as protection and has no desire to leave since he feels at home amongst the monsters. While this serves him well, since he manages to survive for most of the film, his attempts to find a kinship with the Predators naturally fall on deaf ears and he pays for his betrayal by being left as an explosive boobytrap for the Berserker Predator.

The others are colourful cannon fodder, with Stans and Hanzo being standouts for their eventual ends.

The others are largely cannon fodder but have enough personality to stand out, even if they have smaller roles in the grand scheme of things. Unlike the soldiers from the first film, this is a rag-tag group of volatile egos and machismo; many of these guys have committed unspeakable acts, either in service of their country, a revolution, or for their own gratification, which leads to a lot of conflict within the group. While Mombasa (Mahershala Ali) and Cuchillo (Danny Trejo) don’t get too much to do beyond looking tough and being slaughtered, Mombasa provides some insight into the Predators’ ritual taking of trophies and the use of Cuchillo as bait to lure in the others is a harrowing scene that tells us a lot about the enemy’s tactics and the different morals of the other characters (Royce Mombasa, and Stans recognises it’s a trap and opt to leave him; though Isabelle disagrees, she can’t fight the facts and opts to at least deliver a mercy kill). Perhaps the most mysterious of the bunch is the soft-spoken Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a Yakuza Inagawa-kai enforcer who keeps his distance and masks his footsteps by removing his shoes. He stands out from the others thanks to being a largely silent character who exudes a quiet, confident danger through his piercing eyes and severed fingers; similar to Billy Sole (Sonny Landham), Hanzo embodies the honour code of the Predators and even battles one sword to sword to buy the others time, claiming a life at the cost of his own. Stans is also a standout character; when he’s first introduced, he’s in a scuffle with Mombasa, immediately emphasising that he’s a highly aggressive character. Essentially the slimy, loudmouthed shithead of the group, Stans is an unpredictable death row inmate who is confrontational, highly sceptical, and constantly criticising every decision, which only aggravates the group and causes tensions to be strained to breaking point. While the others are hesitant to trust each other, nobody trusts him, though he actually ends up showing a surprising amount of humanity (he is disgusted that Royce set them up as bait and thus caused Mombasa’s death, showing that his priorities have quickly changed since he was ready to kill the man not long before) and backbone as he takes on the Berserker Predator despite being hopelessly outmatched.

Ronald is the film’s breakout character thanks to his fractured mind and appropriated Predator tech.

Then there’s the film’s breakout character, Ronald Noland (Fishburne), a former United States Army Air Cavalry soldier who’s been stuck on the planet for so long that he’s gone a little loopy. Having killed a couple of the Predators and appropriated their technology, Ronald observes the main characters from a distance using their cloaking ability and has holed himself up in the remains of an alien spacecraft. Talking in barely a whisper and keenly aware of the Predators’ tactics and techniques, Ronald is only too aware of the lengths one has to go to in order to survive against such a well-armed foe; indeed, a great deal of his mental instability is hinted to be because he chose to run and hide rather than fight alongside whoever he was first dropped there with. Having been stuck there for a long, long time, Ronald has developed a split personality and often talks (and argues) with himself after having been driven to madness from isolation and the constant threat of danger. At first, Ronald seems welcoming and accommodating; he admonishes the group for talking too loud and unknowingly giving their position away, but takes them in despite Stans’ bad attitude; he shares his food and water and even relates some of his knowledge to them, allowing them (and us) to learn how the Predators change and adapt with each cycle and the blood feud between the different Predator variants. All too soon, however, Ronald shows his true colours and tries to kill them, which ironically proves to be his undoing as he’s unceremoniously killed off with a single headshot. Having dug in and done whatever he can to survive, Ronald has been driven to edge from approximately ten years of isolation and conflict; believing that there’s no way off the planet since the idea of piloting an alien spacecraft is ludicrous even to him, Ronald is so far gone that he’ll lure in his own kind just to steal their resources so he can survive a little longer. It’s a shame Ronald didn’t last longer as he was an intriguing character and I think he deserved more of a payoff than he got; the Predators don’t seem to be actively hunting for him, and he doesn’t get a cathartic one-on-one showdown with any of them, meaning his end is pretty unceremonious, so I would have loved to see his character explored in some kind of prequel comic or book.

The Classic Predator is physically outmatched by the far superior Super Predators.

Predators expands on the titular alien’s lore and society in ways that have never really been seen before on film; previously the hunters came to Earth as a kind of workman’s vacation, basking in the heat and the chaos of our world to claim trophies or using us as incubators to bred the ultimate prey. Now, we learn that the aliens also regularly abduct killers and soldiers to be placed on their game world and hunted en masse in groups of three, which fundamentally alters the previously established portrayal of these creatures as solo hunters looking for a quick thrill on an alien world. Picking only the best prey for their game hunt, the Predators stalk them from afar as normal, but also unleash alien “attack dogs” to lure them out, and have clearly been bringing humans and other species there for a long, long time based on what we learn from Edwin and Ronald. Thanks to the jungle setting and the slower pace of the first half, much of the film heavily emulates Predator, retreading the same ground but in a new, fresh way while also acknowledging the events of the first film (though not the second, despite taking weapons and lore from that film). Nowhere is this more evident than in the traps laid by one of their victims, which as I mentioned are exactly like Dutch’s and kind of give the impression that Dutch’s tactics would not serve him well in this new environment. Not only that, there are now two groups of Predators and there’s a fascinating class warfare between the species; if you’ve seen the other films, you know how tough the Predator is so seeing the Classic Predator strung up and helpless is similarly a great shorthand to how formidable these new “Super Predators” are. These larger, far more fearsome Predators exhibit an even greater level of intelligence than their predecessors; utilising drones, attack dogs, and proving that their cunning and ferocity only increase with each season. While their technology remains largely the same, based around bladed weapons and plasma cannons, Ronald notes that they tweak and improve these with each batch of prey, clearly showing that they learn from their experiences, but even the Berserker Predator still craves the thrill of the old ways and engages in unarmed combat with Royce for the finale, and proves just as susceptible to mud and smoke and mirrors when left without the advantages of its technology.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Another way in which Predators borrows from the first film is in its building of tension; while Dutch’s group were a tight-knit, well-oiled team, these guys are one bad argument away from turning on each other, which keeps a thick layer of tension throughout the film, but especially in the first half. This is only exacerbated when Mombasa senses a Predator watching them from the trees, and the continued use of the first-person heat vision and the voice emulation of the titular hunter once again effectively builds a sense of dread and horror as both the knowing and unknowing audience would be just waiting for the creatures to reveal themselves and strike. A central theme in the movie is that of distrust and the nature of humanity; the Predators are overtly alien and monstrous, both in appearance and their ritualistic methods, but humans are much more adept at hiding their monstrous nature behind metaphorical masks. Even Royce, who openly admits to having employed similar tactics to flush out or overcome his enemies, has a darkness within him that means he’s ready to leave the others behind if it means escaping the planet. He’s interested only in surviving by any means necessary, but is determined not to end up like Ronald, whose desperate need to survive has driven him to madness. Edwin masks his true nature behind a mask of cowardice and helplessness but is, in fact, the most monstrous of all the main characters, even someone as reprehensible as Stans, to the point where he callously admits to feeling more at home amongst a planet of monsters than amongst his fellow man.

The Predators use attack dogs and tech to stalk and draw out their prey, while also being in a blood feud.

Although they’re all heavily armed and formidable individuals in their own right (even Edwin, who survives due to conning the others into believing he’s something he’s not), the characters are hampered by limited resources and a hostile, literally alien environment. At first, they try to piece things together and are stunned to find they’re on another world, but their first instinct is to blast at the alien creatures that come their way, leading to a number of highly engaging firefights. The action ramps up in a deliberate pace, building alongside the tension as the characters scramble to escape Ronald’s hideout and find the Predators far more formidable than their attack dogs. Naturally, Predators is bolstered by some brutal kills and vicious bloodshed; the Tracker Predator not only nonchalantly blows Ronald’s head off, it also stabs Nikolai in the back and leaves him hanging on the end of its clawed gauntlets. Cuchillo’s eviscerated corpse is left as bait for the others, Stans ends up having his spinal column and skull wrenched from his still living body and, perhaps to make up for Billy’s offscreen death in the first film, Hanzo engages in a sacrificial swordfight with the “Falconer Predator” (Mears) that leaves them both dead. We even get some violent Predator-on-Predator action in the finale as the Classic Predator battles with the fearsome Berserker Predator in a knockdown brawl that sees the iconic creature overpowered and ultimately beheaded by its physically superior counterpart. While the Predators are limited to four in the film, each one has a distinct look, as is to be expected from these creatures; as you also might expect, the Classic Predator is the most recognisable, and looks almost exactly like his counterpart from the first film, but these Super Predators are even uglier motherfuckers under those masks, with the Berserker Predator appearing far more monstrous once it takes its helmet off. We also get a couple of other alien creatures here, as the Predators send out tusked attack dogs to give the main characters something to shoot at and Edwin is used as bait to draw out the “River Ghost”, a humanoid alien that has some similarities to the Predator’s original design.

After the Classic Predator is killed, Royce uses all his intel to battle the Berserker Predator to the death.

When Edwin is maimed and left as dead weight for Royce and Isabelle, Royce callously opts to leave them both behind in a desperate bid to escape the game preserve by freeing the Classic Predator and having it fly them to safety. The Classic Predator, itching to settle the score with the Berserker Predator, honours the deal by setting the ship to autopilot back to Earth and goes one-on-one with its larger rival. Unfortunately, the Classic Predator’s no match for the Super Predator and Isabelle is stunned when Edwin drugs and paralyses her with a neurotoxin from an alien plant and coldly reveals his true nature as a sadistic murderer to her. Although Royce appears to die when the Berserker Predator destroys the spaceship, it turns out he had a change of heart and came back for them, proving he has some humanity beneath all his tough-guy swagger. He also proves to be craftier, and faster, than Edwin anticipated, stabbing and leaving the would-be doctor as a prime target to lure out the Berserker Predator. Having observed his foes throughout the film, and taken onboard everything he’s learned from them (and from Isabelle and Ronald), Royce wounds the Berserker Predator, uses fire to disorientate it, and cakes himself in wet mud to help neutralise the creature’s infrared vision. Striking hard and fast with an axe, Royce seems to have the upper hand but underestimates the capabilities of the Predator’s helmet, and he’s soon left taking a beating from the creature. Luckily, Isabelle manages to wound the Berserker Predator with a sniper shot, giving Royce the chance to recover, pummel the alien with his axe, and ultimately decapitate it to prove himself the superior of the two. Wounded, tired, and haunted by their experiences, Royce and Isabelle are left facing the prospect of a new crop of prey being dropped in for the hunt but nevertheless determined to find a way off the game planet.

The Summary:
Honestly, I can’t stress enough how much I enjoy Predators; as much as I like to see the Predators in new environments in each film, recreating the jungle theme of the first one by setting it on an alien world was a great way to evoke the spirit of that iconic movie while still providing something new for long term fans. There’s also enough breadcrumbs here to inspire newcomers to check out that first movie, but sadly (and honestly confusingly) no mention of the events of the second film despite the fact that the Predators use weapons introduced in that movie. Still, the focus is clearly on paying homage to and replicating what made the first film so great but with different circumstances and far more volatile characters; this can be seen all throughout, with the score, the narrative beats, and even the dialogue all being direct references to that first movie, but the presentation and conditions are just different enough that it never feels like a cheap knock-off or a simple remake. Adrian Brody is surprisingly convincing as a tough, gruff mercenary; Royce is an intelligent and versatile character who has great instincts and a strong urge to survive, but also finds his humanity again by the end of the film. The others are equally larger than life; even those with small roles shine in their own way by contributing some entertaining character moments or helping to spread the exposition across the film’s runtime. Ronald remains one of the most intriguing characters in the franchise; I’d love to see the degradation of his mind and spirit chronicled in a comic book some time, and I think the only way it could’ve been better is if he’d stuck around a little longer or even been a returning character. The Predators themselves naturally steal the show at every turn and their species is expanded upon nicely here, with some elements (like the differing Predator classes) bleeding into the next film. Indeed, one of the main reasons I was so disappointed by The Predator (Black, 2018) was that it didn’t tie up the cliff-hanger ending of this film; hell, I would’ve settled for Royce and Isabelle being the cargo the “Fugitive Predator” (Brian A. Prince/Kyle Strauts) was protecting in that film. Sadly, Predators seems to have been largely forgotten these days, and that’s a real shame as it’s a really good film that does a great job of putting a new twist on the classic formula and I’d love to see this concept and character revisited and expanded upon at some point down the road.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Did you enjoy Predators? How do you think it compares to both the first film and the others in the franchise? Which of the characters was your favourite, and who would you have liked to see get a bigger role? Would you have liked to see Ronald’s character explored further, and were you disappointed that Predator 2 wasn’t referenced? What did you think to the Super Predators and the way the film expanded upon the creature’s lore? Would you have liked to see a direct sequel to this film? Which of the Predator sequels and merchandise was your favourite and did you celebrate Predator Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Predators, feel free to leave a comment below or drop your thoughts on my social media.

This post first appeared on Dr. K's Waiting Room, please read the originial post: here

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Talking Movies [Predator Month]: Predators


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