On The Precipice: Predators (2010)

Movies are a dime a dozen these days. Some we see, some we don’t. Some are for the ages, most are good, and then there are the stinkers. For the ones that stand the test of time, it will have imitators for years to come. But what about the ones that come close to greatness? The ones that have all the likings of being an all-time favorite, but just fall short for whatever reason? In this series On The Precipice, we examine the movies that we feel come close to that greatness but are just shy of earning the title. For this installment, Max takes a look at Nimrod Antal’s crack at the threequel in the gory, alien hunters entry: 2010’s Predators.

If you haven’t checked out my previous piece for the On The Precipice (And you should), then I should restate the exact same thing I said there: I fucking love monsters. And while classics like Dracula, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon will always have my heart, my first love may very well be the Predator. In just a few short hours I’ll have my butt planted in a seat ready to watch Shane Black’s sequel: The Predator. And while it looks like a great time, there is a truth that I’ve recently come to realize. Nothing will ever beat the original 1987 classic. It’s a perfect film that balances action, horror, sweaty machismo, and a cast that delivers all timer one liners that are quoted even today. It absolutely cannot be topped. And so, with that in mind, knowing of the several sequels that exist along with countless imitators, can there be a favorite runner-up? The answer is yes, and it lies in both as an imitator and the third sequel to the very first Predator: 2010’s Predators.

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It’s worth noting that Predators was one of the first movies I ever started closely following. With its initial announcement, pre-production, production, post-production, and eventual release there was almost no stone left unturned by me when it came to a new Predator film. I read the original 90’s script by Robert Rodriguez, I endlessly checked out the cast and their roles, but most importantly I wanted to know what kind of Predators (Or Yautja if ya nerdy) we would be getting, and what new hunting antics they would be getting into. It’s safe to say I was all over the film before it released and knew plenty walking into the theater (Much to my mother’s chagrin). But even after that initial viewing (And many, many subsequent viewings) I knew I found my second favorite Predator film since the very first one. While Predator 2 has its quirks and charms, its marred by pacing issues, overt racism (Jamaican Voodoo gangs ya’ll), and a weaker cast. Danny Glover’s Mike Harrigan is no Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he isn’t supposed to be for good reason. He’s a brash hothead, and with that kind of personality Predator 2 is helped along by Glover’s performance, but he simply lacks the charisma that Schwarzenegger so effortlessly oozes, and with the lack of a strong supporting cast, well the film just falters as a whole. But where Predator 2 fails, Predators (Somewhat) succeeds.

Unlike the previous sequel, Predators has an ensemble cast of diverse “characters”. I use quotations because while they stand out more, much like in the original film, for the most they exist as what they have on them. For example, Oleg Taktarov’s character Nikolai is a Russian Spetsnaz commando with a massive machinegun that has a family. That’s mostly it. While he (Like most of the cast) are walking clichés, Taktarov imbues him with a certain kindness that stands out. It’s not the most original of characters, but he has more definition than say Ruben Blades Danny Archuleta from Predator 2. Characters like Taktarov’s Nikolai and Danny Trejo’s Cuchillo help round out the cast while also filling in the void left by their de facto leader, Royce (Played by Adrien Body). His Han Solo’s “I work alone, until the very last minute when I have a change of heart” arc is super typical, and his growling Batman voice is fine for the most part until the times where it becomes overbearing. I don’t judge his position for this film, as he plays a lone badass pretty well, and going up against the legacy of Schwarzenegger is damn near impossible. Yet for the most part, he pulls it off. Almost everything about him works and the fact that he doesn’t have any real charm, helps separate him from the likes of Schwarzenegger. If anything, it gives the rest of the ensemble time to shine. My problem with him is in fact his arc. It’s not unbelievable, as much as it is in fact typical. Throughout the film this lone wolf slowly starts to bond with Isabella (Played by Alice Braga), so that in the end after it’s perceived that he “dies”, he can turn around and save her from both Edwin and Mr. Black (the leader of this new group of Berserker Predators). A far more interesting scenario exists where Royce arrives too late to save her, and is then motivated by revenge to take on both opponents. Like I said it’s not bad, it’s just generic and it doesn’t help that Isabella, the sole woman in the entire group is the heart and soul, who cares about what happens to her “allies”. Along with Royce, another interesting scenario exists where she is the lone wolf (As she is a sniper after all), and doesn’t care about others, but slowly bonds with Royce throughout the course of the movie. I won’t say my alternative takes are perfect, but they allow for a better scenario that plays with the audience’s expectations rather than playing it safe.

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The other two characters that stand out for better and for worse are Edwin and Stan. Both have the funniest lines in the movie, and both play off each other for some good laughs. But for the most part, that’s where their similarities end. Edwin is quite frankly a terrible character. From the get go he’s supposed to be the odd man out and the most innocent of the bunch, but he’s absolutely terrible at hiding it. His random knowledge of toxins and chemicals fail at disguising what’s beneath the surface, and even late in the third act when he pull’s out Nikolai’s family photo to appeal to Royce, you can tell somethings off. Now I’m willing to admit because I had prior knowledge of the twist going in, that I could see behind the ruse. But watching the film in subsequent viewings, it just still doesn’t work for me. Mostly this is because Topher Grace just makes an absolutely terrible villain.  As an innocent doctor sure it makes sense, but his heel turn as a conniving serial killer just doesn’t work. Had he been more open with, maybe secretly killing off the other players it’d make more sense, but he just becomes an antagonist and is then promptly dispatched not even five minutes later. Stan on the other hand (Played to hilarious perfection by the always great Walton Goggins) is probably the best character in the film, as he is the only one who resembles any kind of real character. Sure, he makes some hilarious dark rape jokes that are definitely questionable in 2018, but he is constantly shown to care for his fellow group members, especially when his frenemy Mombasa (Played by future Oscar winner Mahershala Ali) is killed and even later when he sacrifices himself for the rest of the team. If anything, he most closely resembles Hudson (Played by the late, great Bill Paxton) from Aliens, and apparently this fact didn’t go unnoticed in some script changes. I won’t say Stan was a prisoner with a heart of gold, but Goggins gives more to him than meets the eye (Also points for being the only one with the goriest kill, as he gets his spine entirely ripped out). A potentially better movie could have had the group not only contend with the Predators hunting them, but also with the fact that one of their own is killing them off one by one. This could lead to contention within the group, as they start to heavily suspect it to be Stan, when in reality it’s Edwin. Such a plot thread could bring some much-needed suspense to another wise action heavy film while also making Edwin’s heel turn more sinister than initially seen.

Admittedly a large part of the character works that falters is simply because Predators follows the first movie to an almost absolute T. There are a thousand callbacks and repeats of the very first film, that one could argue it’s as egregious as any of the Star Wars spinoffs. From Nikolai’s machine gun echoing Blain (To even the fatal wound he sustains at the hands of the Tracker Predator), the team firing off all their guns in the forest as they try to kill something, a repeat of certain lines from the first film, and even the ending where Royce masks himself in mud to hide his body heat. It’s slavish devotion to the original movie helps and hinders it all at the same time. It works because it adds a wrinkle or two to those repetitive scenes so it doesn’t feel like you’re watching the exact same thing. Take for instance the scene where the group is firing at the hounds. In the original, the only person to see something was Mac, and they essentially fired at nothing the entire time, only wounding the creature slightly. This time they all see something, and manage to kill most of the hounds. Granted its little things, but where it hurts is the fact that the time wasted trying to tell the audience if we remember a certain scene from the 1987 original, could have been spent fleshing out the characters a bit more, or adding a bit more substance than style. A quick look at the established runtimes, shows that the original runs one minute longer than its third sequel (Predator running 107 minutes, and Predators running 106 minutes). Considering the first film established its characters and tension in almost the same amount of time, it’s reasonable to assume the same could have been done here.

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But then I’m sure I’ll hear the argument that there’s no point to building tension, since we already know what the creature looks like and what it does. I’d argue that’s true for the most part, except that doesn’t take away from the fact that these Predators are still different from those that came before and are clearly using different tactics than previously seen. This is especially noteworthy because these Predators are unlike any that we have seen before. For starters they are much bigger than the “normal” ones we’ve seen throughout previous films, and they also seem to have no honor, killing both Noland, Stan, and Edwin with almost any provocation. In other words, they are more ruthless than their cousins, and that makes their hunt against our human characters more compelling. To a degree. You see outside of Mr. Black (Our Big Bad with the jawline on his mask), these new Predators, much like our human cast don’t make much of an impact. Obviously, they are different, but outside of one usage of both the hounds, and the falcon, both the Tracker predator and the Falconer get almost nothing to do throughout the film. There’s no discernable personality to them besides what they have. The Tracker predator runs the hounds and the Falconer has some form of Falcon drone (That also does nothing). Now granted, Antal and Rodriguez opened up the mythology with these new Predators, the “Blood Feud” Nolan mentions, and with the crucified Predator, there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than we see or even know. And this for the most part is some really fun worldbuilding, it just doesn’t really apply to our new antagonists outside their gimmicks.

Despite the overt similarities Predators has to its predecessor, it does contain plenty of fun set pieces. Two of my favorite’s are Hanzo’s last stand against the Falconer, and the crème of the crop; The crucified jungle Hunter vs Mr. Black. First off it should be noted how much the Hanzo standoff is very much the same as Billy’s in the first film. The difference being we actually get to watch said standoff. And I must admit, I don’t mind this particular repeat of said scene, and that’s simply because it works. Billy’s offscreen death is effective because it’s absolutely chilling knowing that badass went down screaming. Hanzo’s works because Antal decided to use Kurosawa’s influence in fight choreography, to give an almost silent duel that was both substance and style, while still remaining serious. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise either, as Yautja themselves are heavily influenced by Samurai and their honor bound custom as well as their tendency to commit Seppuku (suicide) when dishonored. There is a certain poetry to fight, as it begins and ends quickly with both foes going down in only two strikes. But by far the best fight in the whole movie is when the Jungle Hunter and Mr. Black throw down. Here was a fight I didn’t know I wanted, and damn does it deliver. Every. Time. Now to be fair, it’s just them tackling and punching each other, and it doesn’t help that the outcome of the fight is pretty much predetermined so that Royce can still come back to save the day. And yet, this one fight seemed to confirm the one thing I always thought people would be interested to see: A Predator film, following the titular character. The rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise proved somewhat that an audience is very much willing to follow non-human characters to a degree, so why can’t the same be done here? The Predator works as both (Anti)hero and villain, so it stands to reason that a subsequent film could be made where we follow one Predator in the midst of this Blood Feud, with more of these “Berserker” predators as our antagonists. Hell, the comic that followed this storyline (AvP: Three World War), had the Berserkers controlling the Xenomorph in their war against others of its own species. Right there you have both a potentially cool standalone Predator film or an Aliens vs Predator film.

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Watching Predators in advance for both this piece, and The Predator has been exciting. For quite some time now I’ve had the film on my mind for this OTP, and I’m glad I was able to get it out there. Predators will never be the first film. In that sense it’s very much like Jaws. It’s the granddaddy of all shark films, and no one will ever top it. So, the best thing to be done is to shoot for second. And for a few hours Predators may very much remain in that spot. Or it might not, depending on how I feel about Shane Black’s latest work. What I do know is that since 2010, Predators has remained a rollicking good time. It has the good; such as the world building, funny dialogue, creature design, and fight choreography. And it has the bad; characters need more time to shine, a rehash of the first film, and a lack of tension. But those faults I’m willing to forgive for the most part when you look at the film as whole. In almost every sense it improves on what Predator 2 was lacking, while adding some new dimensions of its own for better or for worse. There’s even John Debney’s score (Which as of this writing this writer is still unable to procure on Spotify) which like the film is a repeat of Alan Silvestri’s iconic score. But like the Hanzo fight, it’s not bad, and is even an improvement in some areas! Debney manages to mix in a guitar (Especially in the back half of the film) that gives certain scenes a badass feel, such as Royce dragging Edwin away to be boobytrapped. In a way both the film and the score echo the original film by remixing and adding certain elements to the exact same playground, but not doing nearly enough to standout as much as it’s predecessor. In a different life, one could imagine that Predators could have been tenser than the version we got, where instead the group has to not only deal with multiple Yautja hunting them, but also a killer within their own group. And as they get picked off one by one, each member possibly taking one of the hunters with them, we’re left with our protagonist (Royce or Isabella maintaining or switching each other’s characteristics), where they team up with the Jungle Hunter to take out Mr. Black for revenge against the death or their allies. When all is said and done, a heavily wounded Jungle Hunter and our protagonist face each other in one last bout to see who gets to go home. Roll credits. Sadly, this is not to be, but hey I’m sure there’ll be more Predator films down the line, instead we have to settle for what we have and for that Predators remains On The Precipice.

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