If you're going to go back to the well of a successful film franchise, you might as well do it well. Director/producer/writer extraordinaire Robert Rodriguez steps in for this movie which is really more of a reboot than a sequel to the 1987 original. There was a certain charm about the original, a low-budget feel with some great casting and great action, different from most sci-fi action movies from the 1980s. Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal don't alter a successful formula too much, sticking with what works and doing just enough different to keep things interesting.
Waking up from a deep sleep (that he can't remember how he was knocked out) in a free fall, a man named Royce (Adrien Brody) has a parachute deploy right before he crashes into a thick jungle below. He doesn't know who did this to him, or where he is, but soon finds there are seven other people just like him similarly dropped into the jungle. What's going on? Royce begins to piece things together as the seven are introduced. This little group include some of the world's best killers -- with one odd exception, a doctor (Topher Grace) -- and they're all packing ridiculous amounts of firepower. It doesn't take long for them to figure things out; they're on a planet in another galaxy being hunted by a pack of predators on some sort of game preserve...and they are the game. Can they band together to survive or will they be picked off one by one?
Let's start at the beginning, one of the best openers in an action movie I've seen in awhile. No background, no introduction, just an opening shot of Brody's Royce in free fall trying to figure out how to open his parachute. He manages to just in time, still landing not so lightly in the jungle below. Other people start to pop up and figure things out as to what's happening. Obviously as a viewer of a movie called Predators, we know what's going on (especially if you saw any of the previews), but the sense of the unknown still carries the movie in its first hour. It follows the Jaws rule of hiding your creature/attacker/monster, waiting a full hour before we get a glimpse of these galactic hunters. In this thick jungle, anything could be hiding, and Antal packs the story with tension to spare.
Just like the original, the story requires a group of specialists to work together in this hellish situation. I'll be the first to say that Adrien Brody doesn't strike me as much of an action star, but boy, I was wrong. He nails the part of the loner mercenary who doesn't care much for his fellow survivors/killers. The rest of the hunted include Isabelle (Alice Braga), an Israeli sniper, Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), a drug cartel enforcer, Nicholai (Oleg Taktarov), a Russian special forces soldier, Mombasa (Mahershalalhasbaz Ali), a leader of a Sierra Leone death squad, Stans (Walter Goggins), a Death Row inmate, Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a Yakuza killer, and Grace's doctor. Some are developed more than others, Isabelle Nicholai and Hanzo rising above the rest, but half the fun is figuring out who's going to survive and how the rest are going to meet their grisly end. There are some surprises along the way that certainly kept me guessing.
Now while I liked the movie, the second half just can't keep up the momentum of the first half. We meet Noland (Laurence Fishburne), a member of a previous hunt who somehow survived the Predators' attacks. The pacing bogs down after moving a mile a minute early on even with Fishburne hamming it up like nobody's business. His part amounts to a quick cameo (he's only around for two scenes), but it's a memorable part. The pacing slows down some and goes with the tried and true formula of team running, Predators chasing, members being picked off, epic showdown to end it all. The finale makes up the sometime slow pacing as Brody's Royce goes toe to toe with the biggest, baddest Predator. Also an especially bright spot is Hanzo's showdown with one of three Predators in an open field in the dead of night, a very stylistic, very cool action sequence in its subtlety.
What I thought was cool overall was how the 2010 version paid homage to its predecessors. Braga's Isabelle has a great monologue that links this movie with the 1987 original, a great scene that any fans of the original will appreciate. We also get some more background information on these Predators (more than just galactic killers) and why they do what they do. Add on a similar score that moved the action along in 1987, and you've got some great elements that add up to an above average, well-made action movie. And surprise, surprise, the ending leaves the door wide open for a sequel. I'm looking forward to it.
Predators <---(2010): ***/****