The Review: It seems a very sensible rule in life that if something is good, then more of that something must be even better, right? Probably the most clean example of this in movie history is the Alien / Aliens pairing, which gave us two very distinct movies with a common theme, and the second using its increased numbers to great advantage to increase the threat. Sadly, that franchise then took wrong turn after wrong turn, and not content with sullying its own name dragged the poor old Predator franchise in as well, thanks to a long running comic crossover. And even more sadly, by the end of those two movies the scripts were coming across as bad fan fiction.
Ridley Scott has indicated an intention to take the Alien franchise back to its roots, which can surely be no bad thing; Robert Rodriguez may not have felt the most natural choice at first thought to do the same for Predator, but actually letting the purveyor of some decent action movies of the last couple of decades loose on this has worked out quite well. This is the first movie in the pure Predator franchise to actually pit more than one Predator against the “good” guys, at least in active play; what this does do is drop some rather more ambiguous characters into the mix, in this case quite literally dropping them into the atmosphere in the opening sequence.
As they move through the terrain, we learn bits and pieces about their characters, not enough to make them much more than one dimensional but enough to make each one distinct and to set up some useful group dynamics. Adrien Brody would probably not be any sane person’s choice for the follow up to Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he’s buffed up almost to the point of looking like a special effect and seems to have been taking gravelly voice lessons from Christian Bale’s Batman, and it’s his choices that anchor proceedings. Of the others, Alice Braga and Topher Grace get most screen time, and Laurence Fishburne drops in for a daft but charismatic extended cameo later on.
Director Nimrod Antal does keep things moving very effectively; none of the reveals are stunningly original or hugely impactful, but the scale builds effectively and there are some nice moments of tension and action. The decision to return to the jungle, even if it’s not quite the same setting as the original, gives Predators a back-to-basics feel, and this serves it well. The humans get to be humans and the Predators get to be Predators, not suddenly developing strange new powers or traits, and it all ends with some effective stand-offs and match-ups. Ideal weekend evening entertainment if you want to turn off your brain, sit back, relax and get just a teensy bit nostalgic for when men were men and action movies were action movies.
Why see it at the cinema: The wide frame is used to regular advantage to highlight the isolation of the soldiers, and there’s some big, big images as well as a big, big sound field. So make the most of it if you’re going to.
The Score: 7/10
The Review: There’s something odd about people in general – we like to be surprised. We like that twist at the end, we like the intricacy of the puzzle and trying to work it out. But, by and large, we don’t like magic any more. The theatrical men with their grand illusions seem to have had their bubble burst in recent years, partly because society got bored and allowed itself to give away all the endings and secrets on TV specials. So if you’re going to pull the wool over someone’s eyes these days, you need to do a few things right.
Firstly, you need to draw in your mark, and get their attention. Writer / director Rian Johnson sets up the story with a childhood prologue which sets out the principles and the character traits in a very efficient seven minutes, which almost works as the first act of the movie; everything you need as set-up for the rest of the movie’s been tightly but expertly packed in here, capturing both Bloom’s reasons for participating and his disappointment that not everyone leaves happy at the end. This then allows the body of the movie to head off in random directions, but always leave you feeling engaged and connected.
Secondly, you need to make sure your act has polish and professionalism. Two things work in the movie’s favour here – the travelogue locations would make a James Bond film feel proud, landing in one location for just long enough to edge the plot along before rattling on to the next. It takes with it a strong cast who are all having fun with their roles, except maybe Adrien Brody who only gets to drop the melancholy occasionally as the titular Bloom. But Mark Ruffalo, Robbie Coltrane and Maximilian Schell all tuck into theirs with appropriate gusto, Rinko Kikuchi (you might remember her from movies such as Babel) gets to have enormous fun as the mute explosive expert, almost a live action Gromit to the Brothers’ Wallace, and especially Rachel Weisz, the collector of hobbies who gets to show most of them off in a fantastic montage early on.
But thirdly, and most importantly, you need to have your ending ready – the crowd won’t come back if the trick doesn’t reveal itself well. Johnson, both through script and direction, keeps things moving along at pace right to the end, but the travelogue feel and the nature of the layers of the con give a fun, frothy feel, then at the last he attempts to reach for gravitas and danger, and we don’t want it to end that way. It’s as if you’ve watched Matt Damon in Ocean’s Eleven, only to discover the end of a Bourne movie at the climax. Sadly, the ending doesn’t feel as if it’s been earned – there feels one con too few or too many, but either way the Brothers come up just short of a successful show. Better luck with your next mark, fellas.
Why see it at the cinema: The huge amounts of background detail and action in the distance, almost like a Zucker comedy, are best captured where you have the chance to see it all. There’s also enough good laughs to keep the communal spirits up.
The Score: 7/10