Still, “Predators” managed to hook me in with its striking opening scene, in which Adrien Brody‘s character wakes up while in freefall, barely managing to open his parachute before crashing into a strange jungle. He’s soon followed by half a dozen other poor souls who’ve mysteriously been abducted from every continent on Earth and dropped from the sky on what turns out to be an outer-space game preserve. And yep, they’re the game…
For the most part, this film closely mirrors the structure of the 1987 original, effectively conveying the jungle atmosphere, taking its time before unleashing a Predator (multiple ones in this case) on the protagonists, then having them be hunted down and killed one after the other, until only one remains for the big climactic confrontation. Director Nimród Antal recreates various visual motifs from John McTiernan’s movie and composer John Debney shamelessly borrows cues from Alan Silvestri’s score. Nothing new so far, but it works, if only as a reminder of how awesome “Predator” is.
The first place where “Predators” goes astray is in the casting. Adrien Brody is a gifted, Academy Award-winning actor, and he does what he can to be convincing as a cold-blooded mercenary, but at the end of the day, he’ll never be as badass and physically imposing as Arnold Schwarzenegger. Some of the other cast members (Danny Trejo as a Mexican cartel enforcer, Walton Goggins as a death-row inmate, Oleg Taktarov as a Russian Special Forces soldier, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali as an African death squad member, Louis Ozawa Changchien as a Yakuza) are promising, but there’s no equaling the macho Hall of Fame that surrounded Arnold (Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, etc.). Making the girl (Alice Braga) as tough as the guys instead of defenseless like Elpidia Carrillo was not a bad idea I guess, but even though I’m a Topher Grace fan, I’m not sure we needed a wisecracking geek in this posse, even for comic relief.
Another thing that bugged me is that nearly every time the film deviates from the formula, it detracts from it instead of enhancing it. Without going into spoilers, I’ll say that the extended Laurence Fishburne cameo, the “enemy of my enemy” thing and especially the series of dumb twists at the end all left me befuddled.
Most frustrating of all, the action scenes in “Predators” are just not that exciting. The special FX are technically better and everything is bigger, louder and more explosive, but also more chaotic and confusing. There are a bunch of cool little beats, but they’re few and far between, and Antal never comes close to equalling, let alone outdoing McTiernan. In spirit, “Predators” is a worthy successor to the first film; in execution, not so much.