Rad Review: Alien Vs. Predator (2004)

alien vs predator landscapeCrossover movies can be tricky beasts. By definition you’re serving at least two masters from two different fan bases. When combining two properties like Aliens and Predators — ones that had already faced off in the worlds of comics, video games and pretty much everything aside from movies — there’s a lot to live up to. When we first saw AVP back in 2004, we were admittedly disappointed. Frankly, we would have been happy if the movie was simply our two favorite aliens smashing each other to bits at every chance without so many pesky humans getting in the way.

Well, we revisited alien vs predator POSTERthe movie recently and it’s a wonder what lowered expectations combined with a better working knowledge of a story can do for enjoyment of a film. Going blind into any franchise flick or remake, you’ve got a certain set of expectations and the new film either meets them or doesn’t. If they’re not met, then you leave disappointed at best, which can sour you. That’s how we were with AVP. But, never let it be said that the Explosions Are Rad crew doesn’t go back and re-evaluate.

alien vs predator dvdAVP finds a group of scientists, archaeologists, industrialists, diggers and mercenaries traveling to Antarctica to investigate a strange heat signature that’s more than it seems. Lead by Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) — who plays the inspiration for his character in the Alien flicks — the trip soon proves to be more than meets the eye as the crew discovers an ancient underground temple that just so happens to  house an Alien queen. As we learn, millennia ago, the Predators came to Earth, built these temples to test their skills against the murderous xenomorphs and returned to test their warriors. The crew stumbles upon this deathtrap and must do their best to survive as the Aliens and Predators try to kill them and each other.

The problem with this movie mainly comes in the first 20-30 minutes, which could and should be significantly trimmed down. Sure, it makes sense that they want you to care about these characters, but at the same time it also feels like they’re trying too hard to get you to care about the bait they throw in the water during Shark Week. Hit those plot points a little quicker and get to the action. The biggest and most pointless part of the film that could have been excised completely is this extended interaction where Antarctic guide Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) goes back and forth about leading the team as they’re untrained and the mission timeframe is too tight. Of course, she winds up staying on because she doesn’t think her replacement is good enough so this conflict that feels tacked on winds up doing absolutely nothing but show the audience that Alexa is a good, moral person, something that comes across pretty naturally.

But, aside from a bit of a length problem, the rest of the movie’s actually a pretty fun ride. The crew gets split up inside the temple as the various hunters go about their business, thanks to some Cube-like shifts in the building’s structure. It’s a pretty well thought out movie, directed and co-written by Paul W.S. Anderson along with screen story credits going to Alien writers Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. They probably didn’t need to go to all of the trouble to set the flick on Earth, but what they did seemed to fit well with the existing worlds set up in the previous film.

Of course, the real test of a crossover movie’s success or failure lies in how cool the scenes look when the two different groups finally come together on screen. This film neither lacks those kinds of scenes in the latter half, nor do they disappoint. You not only get to see three different Predators doing their things, but also a pretty impressive cast of Aliens including a Queen running ripshot through this place leading up to the ultimate battle.

While expectations might have been incredibly high for Aliens Vs. Predator the first time around, we think it’s worth checking out further down the line with a better understanding of what’s actually happening in the film as opposed to what we want to.

We Want Action: Predators (2010)

I don’t read a lot of movie reviews because I have a pretty good idea of what I do and don’t like. The only real reviews I pay attention to are the ones done on the Totally Rad Show podcast because I usually sync up with at least one of those dudes. When they reviewed Predators when it came off, I don’t think they were very happy with the movie. I remember Jeff Cannata being disappointed and noting that the setting used in the film wasn’t really used as well as it could have been. I also had some friends who saw it and weren’t all that enthusiastic, but I was still hopeful. Not hopeful enough to actually go see the movie in theaters, but hopeful enough to move it to the top of my Netflix Queue when it came out on DVD. I finally got around to watching the movie and I’ve got to say, I kind of loved it.

I think it helped that I haven’t watched another Predator movie in a while. I love the first one and even the second one, but was woefully disappointed by the two Alien Vs. Predator movies like many fellow fans. So, while I could appreciate a lot of the notes that this movie picked up from the previous ones (giant Gatling gun, woman surviving, traps, etc.) I wasn’t constantly distracted with thoughts of “they lifted that whole thing from FILL IN THE BLANK PREDATOR MOVIE.”

However, I did agree with Cannata’s assessment for at least the first 30 minutes of the movie, basically until the horned hound-pig things showed up. See, the basis of the film is that some Predators, instead of heading to a species’ home planet to hunt, will grab some prey and bring it back to a jungle world and hunt them there, like a game preserve. Our heroes who are actually all villains in the real world (predators themselves as one character points out) got abducted and then parachuted onto the planet. This time around they banded together to try and figure what the heck was going on. It takes almost exactly a half hour for them to guess what we already know, but that time is spent getting to know the characters to some extent and also hitting a few classic notes that I found really appealing like when they accidentally spring a dead soldier’s traps. I liked that scene because it basically tells the audience, “Hey, that’s not how this one is going to end.” After that there’s a lot of fights with Predators and even between Predators and a few twists and turns along the way to keep things interesting but without getting too bogged down including the appearance of Laurence Fishburne as a character who had been surviving on the planet for many seasons and who had lost his damn mind.

I liked the movie overall even though it’s clearly not perfect. The jungle could have been a lot more alien, maybe not Avatar-levels of weirdness, but maybe a few more indigenous dangers. I also was unclear on a few of the alien relationships like the non-Predator thing that chased Topher Grace, which was apparently based on the original design for the Predators (nice touch, by the way). One of the characters thought they were in cages or something. I also wasn’t clear on why the one Predator was tied up. I’m sure some of this information was given but I missed it because I was working.

Aside from a few small quibbles though, I thought the movie was a ton of fun and delivered everything I wanted: several Predators hunting humans with different destructive skill sets and same rad stand-offs between them. I really dug the casting. Adrien Brody surprised me as the hero even if his gruff voice got a little annoying after a while (this from a guy who didn’t even notice how ridiculous Christian Bale’s Batman voice was), but he does a good job of being cunning and caring just enough about his fellow castaways. I love Danny Trejo so it was fun to see him. Fishburne did a good job in his scenes. I liked Topher Grace a lot, mostly because I’m a big That 70s Show fan and the character he plays in this might as well have been a time traveling version of that Eric Forman (well, until the end). I didn’t really recognize the rest of the cast, but I thought they all played their roles well.

And now, a potentially spoilery list of moments in the movie that I loved. When the girl almost shoots herself in the head instead of letting a monster eat her. The intensity of the dead soldier’s trap. The sword fight between the Yakuza dude and the Predator. The reveal that Grace’s character is actually a serial killer, which makes all kinds of sense because why would the Predators snatch a doctor? Brody’s character using fire to camouflage himself when fighting the Predator at the end. That same Predator’s mask and face were both awesome. The projectile Predator blade. A Predator vs. Predator fight. Two beheadings BOTH PREDATORS. And, finally, the not really an ending ending that leaves things open for a sequel.

The movie was so fun I kept getting lost in it when I should have been working. I especially liked that writer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal seemed to have a lot of respect for the Predator mythos, but didn’t seem married to it. They worked in a new way for them to hunt and through Fishburne’s character tried explaining how that all works, though I’d have to watch again to really catch it. The characters themselves might not have been the most fleshed out in the world, but they don’t necessarily die in the order you expect them to either (who would have expected the prisoner with a knife, the Yakuza with a handgun and the doctor with no weapons would live that long?). Combine all that with my favorite movie aliens, lots of action and A SWORD FIGHT WITH A PREDATOR and I’m a happy camper.

Here’s my pitch for a sequel if anyone is interested. We pick back up with Brody’s character who has done his best to salvage the weapons that Fishburne’s character had found. While he arms himself with weapons from all ages (guns don’t really seem to work well, though explosives do) we get a look at who each of the weapons belonged to and how they fared against the Predators. Really, I just want to see Samurais, Ninjas, Vikings and maybe some weird other aliens fighting Predators on the big screen. And yes, I would actually go see the sequel in the theaters if these guys got tasked to make another one, though I’m not sure how likely that will be because guys like me didn’t see it in theaters the first time around. A vicious circle indeed.

Predators Footage

Bam. I love the Predator movies. Yeah, none of them anywhere near as good as the first and the AVP movies kind of suck, but I still just like seeing the Predators. When I heard about Predators executive produced by Robert Roriguez, I got pretty excited. /Film posted this footage that Rodriguez showed off at SXSW. Looks awesome to me.