CATEGORIES Action, Horror, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Thrillers, Theatrical Reviews, 20th Century Fox, Remakes and Sequels, Reviews, Cinematical
I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that the name "Nimrod" doesn't carry the same cultural connotation in Hungary as it does here. In fact, I'd like to think that such an easily self-fulfilling prophecy is what has motivated director Nimrod Antal to become the respectable craftsman that he is today. Mind you, I don't mean to marginalize his work by calling him a mere "craftsman"; on the contrary, his consistent regard for space, pace and tone in 2003's Kontroll, 2007's Vacancy and 2009's Armored has helped him stand out among peers all too eager to shoot a bit shakier and cut a bit choppier. When it comes to Predators, it's these qualities -- combined with the guidance of producer Robert Rodriguez -- that succeed in restoring the pulse to a recently disgraced franchise.
The no-nonsense approach kicks in from the top, as we meet a very disoriented Royce (Adrien Brody) mid-freefall. He doesn't know where he is, what he's wearing or why he's falling, but his parachute deploys just soon enough to prevent him from making too quick an acquaintance with the jungle below. Others won't be so lucky, but those that are -- a sniper (Alice Braga), a soldier or two (Oleg Taktarov and Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a drug cartel heavy (Danny Trejo), a doctor (Topher Grace) and a convict (Walton Goggins) -- remain every bit as confused and trigger-happy as our mercenary friend. Under a never-setting sun, they trudge along and come to realize a few key facts -- namely, that this group was not assembled by accident, that they are not alone in this jungle, and that this jungle is not even on their own planet. As Royce aptly summarizes: this is a game preserve for the titular creatures, and this collection of killers will serve as their latest prey.
Although it shares the fundamental premise of the 1987 original (itself indebted to Richard Connell's classic short story, "The Most Dangerous Game"), Alex Litvak and Michael Finch's screenplay dismisses any ensuing Earth-bound carnage in favor of a series of "what if?" sequences likely spawned from Rodriguez' original treatment. Having been his pet project for quite a while now, it wouldn't be surprising to see him supposing what would happen if humans ended up hunted on another planet instead of their own, what other creatures might exist on such a world, how a fight could go down between someone wielding a samurai sword and another armed with a retractable blade, and how any survivors would be able to escape, if at all. That last dilemma proves troublesome in execution; either they will or they won't, and it'll likely seem pretty unlikely either way.
However, the sharp start and steady build to said climax is a far more measured and effective affair. Booby traps and beasts are encountered in due time and with reasonable excitement. The environments also serve to keep the characters on their toes; we go from different types of forests outdoors in the first act to varied sources of light being used indoors in the second, before wrapping things up on this planet's idea of a dark and stormy night. An early-on reveal of a clearing that's empty save for the body that's being used as bait proves eerie, and the above-mentioned sword/blade battle is a strikingly quiet and almost graceful moment, giving pause to John Debney's fittingly frantic score and accurately reflecting the defiant character's mindset over the inherent silliness of the scenario.
Brody proves convincingly butch here -- not exactly Schwarzenegger, no, but feasible as both loner and leader, if maybe a bit too fond of making generic proclamations involving ominous pronouns while hoisting his weapon skyward. Braga matches him beat for stoic beat, making her bouts with exposition a little easier to endure. Grace serves as a fine odd man out, and while Goggins gets a bit groan-worthy as the more overt comic relief of the two, he does indeed get the line of the movie. (You'll know when you hear it, and I couldn't even print it here if I tried.)
Potential spoiler, but only if you've managed to ignore all TV spots and trailers: The ranks do grow by one when the motley crew is eventually joined by the previous last man standing, played with loopy glee by Laurence Fishburne (of Antal's Armored). He offers a hiding place within a nearby machine, which gives Antal and Rodriguez the briefest chance to not only pay homage to the claustrophobic and dim staging of Fox's other sci-fi/action/horror darling of the '80s, Aliens, but also play with the inversion of leaving their characters too exposed out in the jungle.
A callback to the original film's soundtrack is perhaps the most ill-advised bit of fan service to end on, and as mentioned, the third-act developments feel a bit too hasty in the scheme of things, but beyond that and some cheesy-looking digital fire, Predators generally makes for 100 minutes of run-and-gun fun. (Besides, it's not like Antal could've done any worse than those nimrods behind the AvP films.)