Predators is a film with many struggles which do not immediately make themselves apparent but eventually constrain what is a promising premise. Quite frankly the stakes could not be any higher in a story. A group of strangers are dropped via parachute onto an alien planet. Once realizing they are on another planet and not alone it’s life or death. Sounds like a pretty foolproof recipe for an engaging story. Unfortunately, it isn’t for myriad reasons.
While it is fine to have dueling protagonists one of them needs to be a preferable option and neither Royce or Isabelle is really an attractive option and the sad part is the problems aren’t inherent. You have in this ragtag bunch former military men, mafia or other organized crime members and a doctor. All of which are job types which have bred interesting characters in the past, it’s just these characters hardly develop and show little to no emotion. In the beginning Royce wants to go at it alone and Isabelle wants the group together. Everything you see them demonstrate is just a reiteration of the fundamental difference between the two without illustrating further dissimilarity. So there is a fundamental lack of identification which exists here and even looking at director Nimrod Antal’s previous works that doesn’t typically exist. Vacancy functioned in large part because you identified with the young couple and Kontroll, a film he made in his native Hungary, similarly didn’t have the most charismatic protagonist but he was an engaging one.
The Predators in the film are few and aside from what we learn from the characters’s speculation we know nothing. We occasionally get good looking POV shots thru their heat-sensitive vision but know nothing of them, which would be allowable if they weren’t so prominent. There is one predator who is tied up, why he is ostracized is not explained and yet on the heels of the climax we are asked to watch a predator fight in which we have no rooting interest and do not understand the source of the conflict. That is a fundamental of bad drama in action.
While the lighting and composition of the film provided by cinematographer Gyula Pados was quite often very striking and a highlight of the film there is a cramped aspect to the layout of the planet we see. Such that perhaps if there were more varied locations it would’ve feel more like an alien planet and less like they are under a dome surrounding a very small area.
Another slight issue which mushroomed in conjunction with the other issues it faced was that the film did operate, for the most part, in Franchise Mode. I personally hadn’t seen previous installations in full but there were things you knew would happen and a really high level of execution was needed to impress under those unusual circumstances and that didn’t happen. An example would be their first glimpse of the sky which shows that they are on an alien planet. The audience has already jumped ahead and knows that fact, so even though Pados’s shot with the aid of CG is quite good it is ultimately ineffectual and renders much of act one moot in terms of emotional impact, only their deducing facts about this foreign terrain keeps one engaged.
The cast is hit or miss. The charismatic and funny Danny Trejo isn’t there nearly enough. Adrien Brody may be many things but an action star he isn’t, principally toward the end he came off as a psychopath more than anything else. The one surprising performance the film had to offer was by the Brazilian actress, playing Hispanic, Alice Braga, niece of Sonia.
Even with the stakes set at the start of the film as high as they can go tension never really mounts, it fizzles. Add to that a surprise from Topher Grace’s character and it’s hard to stand even though Grace was relatively effective throughout.
Predators is ultimately a film filled with promise that through many unfortunate miscalculations misses the mark badly.