Spoilers below. Beware.
Sixty seconds into Predators and I'm already in mourning for the Adrien Brody action career we never got. He could have been Bourne. Or nipping at Bruce Willis's heels, appearing in every puncher and shooter that pops up on VOD.
Brody's grizzled voice works for me. It may not for everyone. It was certainly a surprise when he was cast in this film, but then again, many of his post-Oscar roles have been surprising. I was his assistant for a short time on a small movie, and he struck me as someone who searched for interesting roles, wherever they might be. And sometimes they're in bad movies.
Not that this movie's bad. I'd rank it above Predator 2 and both Alien vs. Predator movies. The original is still the series' standard-bearer.
By the time this film was made, the Predator mythology was a complete mess. Only the original film was well-reviewed and the most recent Alien vs. Predator films were fun, but glorified fan fiction. In many ways, Rodriguez and company made the right decision. By siloing this story away from the previous entries, they made the cinematic equivalent of a bottle episode. It's set on a "Predator planet" that works like an alien game preserve. Prey are parachuted in from the sky, and the predators park their spaceships to hunt them. Although production on this film did not start until early 2009, Robert Rodriguez actually wrote an early draft of the script in 1994.
Eight years ago, I vaguely recall being familiar with about half of Predators' cast. Now, it's easy to see how great it is. The 2010 group assembled by producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal is thick with now-famous faces. Alice Braga anchors her own television series, Queen of the South. Walton Goggins, who has long had an illustrious television career, made his mark on the feature world in Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. And Mahershala Ali has starred memorably in Marvel's Luke Cage - and in the little indy that could, Moonlight, which won best picture only a few years ago.
Rodriguez regular Danny Trejo is also a welcomed addition. He's in the same age bracket as the stars of the original 1987 film, and yet he could still hold his own here as a heavy from the Los Zetas cartel. The same will probably be true in twenty years. Trejo's badassery is boundless.
All the characters in this movie seem to be... mostly okay with the fact that they were thrown out of a plane. Into the middle of an alien jungle. I would not be.
Before we hit the fifteen minute mark, one character asks, "What if we are dead?" Raising the possibility that these characters have awakened in some sort of metaphysical purgatory. I'd be open to any theory along those lines. It's rumored that Shane Black's The Predator won't ignore any of the movies in the series. Rather, it's going to find some way to unite them.
There are several types of predators in this film and one is significantly bigger than the others. I'm curious how this will dovetail with the giant predator in Shane Black's new reboot/requel. We don't see a predator until about the forty minute mark. And the predator we do see is dead. It's an interesting choice to hide the most famous face in the movie for so long. I'm still drawing a blank about why this particular predator is alive and yet tied up like a hog. Later in the film, it's explained the larger predators hunt the smaller ones. But why wouldn't they just kill this poor guy?
The arrival of Lawrence Fishburne at the halfway point again reinforces how strong this film's cast is. And the near-immediate reversal that he's a threat is awesome. Fishburne is so capable of portraying a character with great strength of intellect. A bedrock of psychological health. Here, it's very entertaining to see him portray someone with psych issues.
The pairing between Rodriguez and Antal is a good one. I'd love to see another outing even if outside of the predators series. What other film features a sword-wielding yakuza in single combat with the predator? When Royce (Adrien Brody) makes a deal with the smaller predator, it's clear there's a little more going on here than you might expect. Plus, it allows us to have a predator versus predator battle. It's this fusion of plot and action that gives Predators a leg up over dumber action movies. There's an extra helping of story that keeps things interesting, especially towards the end.
The thing that makes Predator successful also ultimately makes Predators successful. Like Alien, it successfully unifies science fiction and horror. The result is essentially a very smart horror film infused with action.
You're up next, Shane Black.