by Nimród Antal
The group quickly figures out how to work together (though the American is not convinced this is best) and as most of them are used to giving and following orders they have no trouble spotting each other but this is tested when they're attacked by a pack of doberman-sized animals that look like crudely drawn triceratops. They manage to stay in twos and lay the creatures down with their collectively awesome fire power and just when it seems like they might be in trouble, a low horn sounds somewhere in the distance and the remaining creatures retreat. All of a sudden everything seems all too simple: all eight of them and whatever was in those cages have been brought here to be hunted for sport. This comes as something of a blow even to hardened killers but the only thing greater than their fear is their will to stay alive and somehow get back to earth. In order to do that they're probably going to need to know how the hunters got there and for that bit of info, they're going to have to walk right into their base camp. To no one's surprise it's not a pretty sight. There are already a dozen flayed bodies hanging from their feet and skulls from at least as many different species, only some recognizable as mammals. But the biggest shock is the muscular humanoid tied to a boomerang-shaped pole with four detachable fangs in front of its jaw. If that thing's tied up, just what had the strength to put it there?
In general Predators works because it's just as exciting and gruesome as the first film, if not a little more so because Antal goes out of his way to make us care about everyone in a way McTiernan didn't. You liked the guys in Predator because they were the heroes, not because they had particularly earned your respect. Antal had a greater challenge, getting you to like murderers (I found it especially troubling trying to sympathize with a member of a Sierra Leone death squad, knowing just what fucking monsters they are in reality) and then caring when they're in danger. To that end the set pieces are the ultimate test of the character development. I found myself genuinely concerned about the five or six characters who make it to the halfway mark and nervous whenever it became clear that they were about to be attacked (that Antal manages to make the predator at least semi-frightening again is something I could kiss him for; letting Greg Nicotero's make-up crew blow shit up kinda negates that especially when you remember that predators would never waste a skull). This is partly the script, which gives many of them families and histories communicated in a line or two, and partly the cast. Finally taking the correct cues from the Alien films, Predators is staffed with character actors who're a lot of fun to watch. Oleg Taktarov's Spetsnaz and Mahershalalhashbaz Ali's RUF member both come off as sympathetic despite having arguably the least to recommend them personally. Louis Ozawa Changchien's Yakuza is a blast because he says exactly eight words the whole film but manages to seem the most intelligent of the bunch. Danny Trejo is great because he made me appreciate the breadth of performances Trejo gives. Here he's a squinting, superstitious killer, all menace, no cunning. I'd taken for granted that Trejo really can act and when you compare his performance here to the one he gives in Heat or Halloween or any of the nearly 200 films he's been in since 1985, you realize how much he gives every one of his roles. Topher Grace will always be Eric Forman but as one half of the movie's comic relief he does just fine, in fact he gets the second best line in the whole movie. The best line goes to Walton Goggins, the other half, who plays the twitchy death row inmate with the shiv and no, I'm not going to spoil that one either. Suffice it to say he's the most fun of all of the guys on the planet, blissfully unaware of the ethics of the situation. In fact I think I probably liked him just as much as the reason that Predators is a subtly progressive, if not a feminist movie. That reason is Alice Braga. Braga may be incredibly attractive but she's also got the most aware of the all the characters and comes across as one of the most competent. She's the only one who sees this movie as a morality play. Brody's character puts together that they were all chosen to be hunted because they themselves have spent so much time hunting people but only Braga wonders whether returning to their home world is such a good thing, which incidentally is an excellent point. And though this could be read as her sensitivity being over-written (especially next to the rape-happy convict) but remember that she wouldn't be on the planet if she weren't one of the most deadly people on Earth. That Antal and Rodriguez both easily put her in the same category as Ali and Brody without once calling attention to her femininity (well, I guess Walton Goggins' line about how awesome her ass is isn't nothing but she and the film roll their eyes at it and once the action starts it's quickly forgotten) is a symbol of how far gender politics have progressed since 1987. They even resist the temptation of trying to make Brody and Braga fall for each other, though they stray perilously close to it at times.