Sorry for the wait, faithful readers. My prep for and presence at Sonisphere has forced my writing to take a backseat. However, as a special treat for my loyal followers, here's the first of a double bill of reviews. Enjoy.
Alternate Title: "About Bloody Time".
Cigarette intake since viewing: ≤4.
Currently listening to: "Ride of the Valkryies" by Richard Wagner.
The Gist: The Predator franchise justifies its continued existence.
The Experience: As I briefly mentioned in my Evangelion review last week, reinventing a franchise is a tricky business on its own. Reinventing one that only has one really good entry in it in the first place, was started over 20 years ago and has been sinking lower and lower with each entry ever since is just asking for trouble of the "stomped to death by angry nerds" variety.
So watching Predators was a strange feeling, and one that doesn't come too often with sequels/remakes/reboots: vindication. The Predator films have long been the butt of unimaginative jokes about hypermasculine men carrying half a helicopter gunship on their backs and that the Predator's face looks like a snarling toothed vagina. Finally, though, we're getting the Predator sequel that we deserve.
The setup, as in the original, is deliciously simple: a bunch of hard-cases are dropped into the jungle, realise they're being hunted and have to escape. This time, however, these aren't Special Forces soldiers on a mission, but a motley crew of misfit mercenaries, murderers and malcontents (try saying that when you're drunk) who've been kidnapped specifically as prey for the eponymous Predators, and the jungle is in fact an alien game preserve on an unknown planet.
The plot never gets much more complex than that, but to be honest it's actually refreshing; previous films have stretched the stories' limited coherence to breaking point by trying to link the Predator race not just to the xenomorphs from Alien but to human crypto-history as well. No such bullshit here, as the majority of the film is instead spent on gore gags, geek-out moments and character beats. A more critical audience member might call this a weakness, but here it is a boon to the solid cast and direction. The characters are cartoonish but well drawn. Its structure is nostalgic of the previous movies without becoming rote or obvious. This film may actually be the finest cases of fan-fiction filmmaking the like of which never really accomodated in Hollywood before.
Which brings me neatly to the subject of Robert Rodriguez. For a while Rodriguez was king of his own little film-making fort, this generation's John Carpenter making his fun little jaunts into everything from horror to kids films. And while he's never really stopped doing that, Sin City shot him into the public eye and his last high profile gig Grindhouse hit cinemas to loud trumpets while the American audience simply looked baffled, as if they'd just witnessed a Brazillian transexual doing something unholy with a wine bottle and a soldering iron. For the past couple of years he's been floating around several big projects, seemingly hoping that he will come back into vogue and get another stab at the mainstream, and Predators seems to be it.
Originally a spec he conceived in the nineties, what would eventually become Predators seemed on paper to be a case of stealthily ghost-directing a piece that would endear him to the notoriously clueless execs at Fox. However, not only does Predators play against type by not being terrible, it also lacks the tell-tale signs of a movie that has been micro-managed into mediocrity by either a fidgety producer or studio focus groups. Return of the Jedi this isn't.
Its criminal that I'm this far into the review without highlighting the brilliant acting talents of Adrien Brody and Alice Braga as the primary characters, or Topher Grace, Walton Goggins or Laurence Fishburne in supporting roles, but the even bigger stars of the show are Brian Steele, Carey Jones and Derek Mears as the Predators themselves. If you loved the first, then this is a must.
I drank the Kool-Aid. Some should you. Right now!