Before even finding out the identity of Royce (Adrien Brody), a cold-hearted mercenary, we are introduced to him unconscious, plummeting from the sky in freefall. An automatic parachute opens and he lands in a strange jungle along with a bunch of other bewildered strangers who are dangerous criminals, elite soldiers or a combination of the two. The one things they have in common is that they are confused, expert killers and pretty unpleasant people. It takes them a while to figure out what the audience already knows – they are game for the species of super-hunter aliens known as Predators.
The good news for many fans is that this fifth cinematic outing for the Predators is a sequel to John McTiernan’s 1987 film Predator with Stephen Hopkins’s 1990 Predator 2 and the two widely disliked spin-off/Aliens tie-in films unacknowledged. In fact, only the events from McTiernan’s original film are referenced and referred to. By calling the film Predators the filmmakers are evoking the relationship between the original Alien film and its sequel Aliens by implying that Predators is the rightful follow-up film to Predator and promises to up the ante in terms of action and the number of creatures for the human characters to contend with. While Predators 2 is an overlooked guilty pleasure, this new Predators does feel like the proper sequel. The setting is once more a jungle, although this time an alien one, and the idea of what it means to be a hunter and to be the hunted is explored further.
There is a nice bit of poetic justice at play in Predators where the human characters realise that they themselves are predatory types and they are able to recognise many of the tricks and strategies used by the Predators. The Predators themselves are revealed to be a more complex race than originally depicted with their own brutal version of racial hierarchy. Nevertheless, all the Predators are warriors and the idea that there could be non-warrior versions of the species is unlikely to ever be explored, which is a shame as somebody could have a lot of fun revealing that the Predators are in fact the pro-hunting gun-nut equivalent of an otherwise peaceful and civilised alien race.
For the most part Predators is B-grade fun in the best possible way. Producer Robert Rodriguez had originally begun developing this film as far back as the early 1990s after the success of El Mariachi but Hungarian filmmaker Nimród Antal (Vacancy, Armoured) has ended up directing. Antal’s Hollywood films are yet to fully live up to the promise he displayed in his début film Kontroll but with Predators he nevertheless does an excellent job filming the various action scenes. Predators is well paced with a good build up and the right degree of character development you need to care about the fate of the human characters. There are also a few genuine surprises and twists.
Predators does somewhat fall apart towards the end with a drawn out and messy conclusion with a few too many improbable factors letting down what was a reasonably strong film until then. Predators is certainly no Aliens (but then again Predator was never on par with Alien either) but it is still a fun ride. With its diverse group of anti-heroes, believable action and absence of smart-ass self-reflexivity, it delivers the sort of engaging spectacle that characterises the action films of the 1980s.