Predators (Antal, 2010)

No one, I think, ever looked smart reviewing a movie like Predators.Looking for, or discussing, plot holes is a fool’s errand that only serves to make one look either snobbish or effete. Yet surely there must be some way of saying that for what it is a film is relatively or marginally better or worse than other movies that are what they are–especially in a day and age when so many movies are what they all are, which is the same.

Predators is competently executed, but its limpness comes more from its conception. As a franchise, the Predator series has some real structural problems. It is not that it can’t be formulaic or repetitive, it is just that formula and repetitions make mystery and gradual revelation impossible. What pleasures there were in the original film (and to some extent in the first sequel) came from watching the occupants of the plot unravel from clues where they were and what the parameters of their situation was. In a classic sci-fi, “Arena” mode, survival depended not just on stunts and chases but also on figuring out what the situation was while keeping alive. In the subsequent films, the audience already knows the premise (from the other movies or the trailers) and so the first half of the film–anything approximating set up–is just time and space wasted waiting for the characters to catch up with what we already know. After that it is essentially run, fight, repeat.

There are a few notions in Predators about the game preserve being used to hone hunting skills in an evolutionary manner, but really to make that anywhere near credible or interesting the writers would have to be much more interested in the details of the hunt and we would have to see actual strategy being used and countermanded and new strategies develop. Despite claims that the predators have learned from seasons of various game hunting, the culmination of this particular battle consists of a relatively simple booby trap (and a predator conveniently pausing to stand in silhouette before it guts its last victim). There aren’t really any new ideas about how to hunt or evade the predators, so despite being told that these humans are especially chosen and equipped to stay alive they are really just a random assortment of moving bodies to be killed in inverse star power order.

What we’re left with then–what is grafted on to make this incarnation marginally different–is a motif about cutting your losses and leaving the weakest to fend for themselves. Live together, die alone (sorry that’s Lost, isn’t it?) yada, yada, yada. Not exactly new ground, but then it doesn’t have to be. The conflict between self interest and togetherness, the tensions between what makes us human and what keeps us alive, is a classic conflict that, when explored well, can have real emotional power. Even here, though, the film tends to invoke that conflict rather than truly explore it. There is a convenient teleology imbuing the film that somehow or another making (what are traditionally considered to be) good moral (i.e. selfless) choices increases your risk of survival in a mysterious economy of cause and effect that works better the higher your billing is on the marquee.

Really, though, who (amongst the people who will chose to go see this movie) cares? There are predator-dogs, a sword fight, pretty human faces (of both genders) running around looking pretty while acting nasty, and of the international collection of bad-asses the Americans both last the longest and have the least tarnished hearts of gold.

What more can a guy ask for?

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