While Predator is not generally considered to be one of the top horror films of the 1980s, certainly the title creature is one of the most iconic creatures of its time. It’s easy to forget, though, that when it was first released it was a solid but not top ten hit (#12 in 1987’s box office, bested by now reviled or forgotten films like Beverly Hills Cop II, The Secret of My Success and Stakeout). Predator‘s budget was an average one, with only one star in the cast, Arnold Schwarzenegger (unless we’re counting Carl Weathers, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, and Bill Duke as “stars”), and clever use of invisibility in the plot to keep special effects cost down. The fact that the film is essentially a classic “B” movie, despite its high quality effects, helps the movie immensely. The simple plot of tough guys used to running roughshod over the opposition who find out that an invisible alien is hunting them benefits greatly from keeping the monster hidden. This gives the film more suspense and tension. The cast of veteran “tough guy” actors makes it more difficult for the audience to guess who will die next. Add in some amusing dialogue and excellent action set pieces and it is easy to see how the film became a cult phenomena on cable and video, leading to 3 more films, comics, video games, and other tie-ins and follow-ups.
Predators tries harder than the previous films to go back to the strengths of the original, at times functioning as a near remake. With a relatively low-watt cast (instead of one action megastar, we get Adrien Brody (The Village), Topher Grace (Spiderman 3) and Laurence Fishburne (Fled) in the jungle, fighting aliens. The plot is back to basics: Brody’s mercenary Royce wakes up in free flight, saved from death by a parachute he didn’t know he had. He finds himself in the company of a group of killers-a Tijuana drug cartel enforcer (Danny Trejo, ConAir), an Israeli Defense Force sniper (Alice Braga, I Am Legend), a San Quentin death row inmate (Walton Goggins, Shanghai Noon), a Spetsnaz commando (UFC fighter and Sambo champion Oleg Taktarov), a Yakuza enforcer (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a doctor (Grace) and a member of a Sierra Leone death squad (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). After some squabbling, the group settles into following Royce’s lead as they gradually figure out that they’re stuck on the Predators’ game reserve planet. Can they survive long enough to find a way out? Will the mysterious survivor of previous encounters (Fishburne) they meet help or hinder their attempts to survive-and can they, indeed, trust each other?
Predators is pure B-movie fun from start to finish. Yes, it’s not as tight as the original film, and the action sequences and creature effects aren’t as compelling. There are definitely times when the film goes to the well of the original film a bit too many times-certainly we didn’t need a remake of the original film’s final confrontation with fewer booby traps and less preparation. The film is best when working with its own story elements-the Fishburne appearance is a highlight, and, for once, the danger from within the group doesn’t devolve into pointless squabbling, while still resulting in a few surprises. One mistake is not revealing the true nature of Grace’s “doctor” sooner-any genre film lover will guess what his secret is from the moment he appears, so why wait so long to make use of it? There are the usual moments of nonsense-why aren’t beings that see in IR blinded by flares used inside a darkened rooms or the magically refilling firearms everyone is carrying, and the film’s general outline is predictable enough-but so long as you keep in mind that you’re seeing a glorified B-movie it’s easy to gloss over these problems. One thing that could anger purists is the new tribe of Predators-larger, with a different style head-that are in conflict with the older style predators and which largely take their place here. The cast is quite good, from the unknowns up to Grace and Fishburne, though Brody’s “Christian Bale” style raspy whisper is hard to take seriously, even if he is otherwise good in the role. Definitely worth a look by fans of the original.