The main problem with a concept like Alien vs. Predator is that we simply don't care who "wins." (As if either species could actually "win" -- thereby negating potential sequels.) In their respective series, both the Aliens and the Predators were the villains - very slick, very slimy and very violent villains. And in that capacity, these creatures reign supreme. Jam the two species together for a claw-to-claw brawl-fest and the rooting interest is gone ... unless you actually have some human characters in there to offer some rooting interest. And this is where AvP fails. Resoundingly.
...and to think that all of this started with just a little in-joke from one of the Predator 2 set designers...
It's true. As any bona-fide fanboy can tell you, there was an "alien" skull cataloged among the predator's many trophies. From such inauspicious beginnings came a very popular comic book series, a line of best-selling video games, toys, keychains, etc. Even after Predator 2 and Alien: Resurrection were dismissed as disappointments (at best), the "Alien vs. Predator" revenue stream continued unabated. So it comes as no surprise that this movie has finally hit the screens, following many jettisoned screenplays and false starts.
The director is Paul W.S. Anderson, the oft-vilified genre director who has brought us such "love it or hate it" chestnuts as Event Horizon, Mortal Kombat, Soldier and Resident Evil. Some would call Anderson a 'perfect fit' for the AvP movie; others pitched a fit of their own after Anderson landed the gig. Say what you will about the guy's directorial talents (I believe there's always a place in Hollywood for a guy who likes to make hyper-kinetic genre flicks), but AvP is hamstrung by the very same thing that marred his earlier films: the screenplay. Despite the fact that this movie has gone through dozens of drafts, Mr. Anderson receives sole screenwriting credit. Some might recommend he try to share the blame, because this script is a dud.
It's not the outlandishly doofy plot scenario that irritates the most. It's the ceaseless deluge of woefully contrived dialogue that sinks the movie's (already deflated) human angle, and without the presence of a little recognizable humanity, you're left watching a loud and flashy video game. Only you're not allowed to hold the controller.
Let's see if I can do this in one sentence:
Every 100 years, the Aliens and the Predators meet in a gigantic pyramid that's buried under 2,000 feet of glacial Antarctic ice so that the two slime-ridden species can duke it out in an effort to see which Predator has just earned the Predator equivalent of a Bar Mitzvah, only this time modern man is just advanced enough to learn of the subterranean game of intergalactic laser-tag and they promptly stick their barely-evolved primate asses into a deathtrap of seriously sticky proportions.
There. At this moment you either really want to see this movie -- or you hope to live your whole life without seeing one single frame of the thing.
Lovely Sanaa Lathan earns the questionable honor of "leading lady" to a menagerie of snot-covered monsters, and she truly does the best she can with a woefully undeveloped and blatantly Ripley-esque character. The rest of the cast is faceless and forgettable, which is a shame because that wastes the talents of guys like Ewen Bremner and Lance Henriksen. (Bremner plays a guy who mentions his young babies three times in four scenes; guess where his character is headed.)
Forgive a potentially stupid digression, but what one notices in Alien vs. Predator is that the aliens are portrayed as the evil beasties while the predators come off as noble warriors. And this seems more than a little unfair. Aliens are not evil; they are a violent race of intelligent creatures who simply behave as their DNA commands. They're like sharks. Predators, on the other hand, are hyper-advanced and extremely intelligent super-killers who descend onto just any old planet they want, wiping out entire species with the flick of an intergalactic Deus Ex Machina bomb. They're like U.S. Presidents!
Anyway, back from geektown: Alien vs. Predator is a generally drab and persistently dopey movie. The "omg we're stuck in a giant maze" schpiel goes nowhere fast, the human characters exist as nothing more than cardboard cutouts spouting fifth-generation gibberish, the editorial style focuses on strobe-light effect as opposed to narrative cohesion, the long gaps between Beast Fights are airy and interminable, and not one scene in the film could accurately be described as 'scary'. I know they were going for the 'comic book action' vibe on this crazy concoction, but how can a movie called Alien vs. Predator be bereft of one bona-fide boo!?
Aside from the generous helpings of dialogue-inspired chuckles, the only fun exists as brief little moments of "Hey, Neato" as one Predator smashes the gleaming skull of one Alien or when one Alien skewers another Predator with his razor sharp tail that's also covered with acidblood. ("Hey, Neato.") But even these novelties grow whiskers in short order. Call it the Van Helsing syndrome, but the concept of watching a screen full of multi-colored CGI beat the snot out of itself gets real old real fast.
Were this a stand-alone piece of genre fluff, the disposability of AvP could be a lot easier to swallow. But given its impressive lineage of excellent movies and high-end graphic novels, the end result should have been a lot darker, starker and laden with chills. Alien vs. Predator is a cool-looking lunchbox that's full of rocks.
(Originally published at eFilmCritic.com -- Sept. 2004)