Predators
Directed by Nimród Antal
Starring: Adrien Brody,
Laurence Fishburne,
Alice Braga, Topher Grace
Rated R for strong creature
violence and gore, and
pervasive language

1 hr., 47 min.

Picture a bunch of hard-core sci-fi nerds sitting in a basement in 1991. Like all fanboys, they’re discussing how much Predator 2 sucked, and what they would have done to make the franchise better. A lot of ideas bounce around, ranging from the wacky (having a sword-wielding Samurai face-off in a grassy field against the hi-tech alien killers) to the interesting (setting the theoretical film on a distant planet to avoid all the stereotypes of an Earth-gets-invaded flick) to the pretty good (having a group of the most bad-ass humans go up against the predators).

Now flash-forward to 2010. All (well, some) of those nerds are now producers, directors and writers who are given the opportunity to revive long-dormant franchises for struggling major studios. Given the reins to their beloved favorite titles, they mostly hit the reboots out of the park because they understood the characters perhaps better than those who originally made the first trilogies. Batman thrived under Chris Nolan’s taut direction. Casino Royale flourished by balancing “realistic” action with the just-suave-enough Daniel Craig, and Star Trek mostly succeeded by grasping the little details that every trekkie gobbles up.

So here comes Predators, the Robert Rodriguez-produced reboot to the franchise that Arnold Schwarzenegger helped build. And all those fanboy ideas that were thrown around in the early ’90s are now the crux of the latest title. Which means the film isn’t exactly a prequel or a sequel, just a maddeningly enthusiastic reimagining of the title — and for what it is, it works exceedingly well.

Here’s the undeniably good B-movie premise: What if the Earth’s deadliest assassins, mercenaries, military sharpshooters and murderers were all kidnapped by predators, dropped on a lush, unknown planet and forced to survive being hunted for sport? You have the samurai warrior, the Mexican cartel enforcer, the African rebel fighter, the deadly mercenary, the Russian soldier and a cagey killer who’s on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list. Which one do you think can last the longest against the much more sophisticated predators? Take you’re best guess; that’s the fun of the movie.

As other critics have noted, the film’s “talking” sequences work surprisingly well also, because actors are given more direction than just “run,” “scream” or “shoot your action-figure machine gun.” It’s consistently engaging when the characters make logical decisions in an obviously fantastical situation. What would you do? How would you fight the predators if you were a bulked-up mercenary?

This choose-your-own-adventure feel to the title allows accomplished actors like Adrien Brody (The Pianist) and Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix) free-rein to actually delve into their roles. We see Brody trying to callously go it alone against the predators, and Fishburne’s maniacal survivor-scrounger running amok amid both the alien and human camps. What might once have appeared to be just a “pay day” movie for both actors now appears to have been a savvy choice to reinvigorate their flagging careers.

When the end of the movie arrives, the target audience will surely have its fill of the spattered, neon-green alien blood and the many comic-book-style decapitations. But as the inevitable next film is set up, you may actually find that you care what happens to the survivor(s).

Here’s hoping it won’t take another 20 years to figure out a decent idea for a sequel.

erik@vcreporter.com