Sequels are a tricky business. If too close to the original, an audience will label a follow up as pointless. If too far, the film runs the risk of alienating fans entirely. Striking the right balance between innovation and familiarity becomes even more difficult when directors and time periods change, potentially altering the flavor of the property beyond recognition. It often takes a proper fan of the original movie to do it right, and watching Predators, it’s clear that Robert Rodriguez truly enjoyed the first film in the franchise.
Predators opens with a bang. A mercenary, Royce (Adrian Brody), wakes to find himself in free fall. He manages to activate his parachute and land safely, only to find a motley assortment of killers has made the same drop. With no idea who abducted them or where they’ve landed, the group has no choice but to work together even as those who arranged their arrival begin to stalk their prey.
The original Predator was a miracle combination of testosterone-fueled ’80’s action and slow-building horror elements. It’s still kind of amazing that it worked so well. While it’s impossible for a sequel to be quite as unique, the new team’s predicament provides enough fresh wrinkles to make things interesting.
The camaraderie of the original film is replaced by an uneasy alliance between strangers. This allows for some good initial tension/paranoia and provides more space for developing the characters. The movie also makes the smart move of changing up the Predators usual modus operandi from scene one, making it clear to fans that something is amiss. The reveal is a great payoff and adds a nice extra layer to the situation. The action is spaced out just enough to keep it exciting, and it’s consistently visceral and well shot. The effects are also impressive throughout.
That said, there are some flaws. The biggest of these is easily Laurence Fishburne, who hams it up every second of his (mercifully short) screen time. There’s also a twist regarding the team’s odd man out, Edwin (Topher Grace), that I saw coming from a mile away (I actually predicted it from the first time I read about his character). The fact that none of the other characters even question his presence is honestly pretty baffling. Likewise, it seems very strange that no initiative is taken to use the camouflage technique that saved Dutch in the first film until the end of the movie given that his account is shared by one of the team.
All that said, Predators is still a solidly enjoyable experience. Rodriguez envisioned the film as a companion piece to Predator only, and it does very well in that respect. It’s just the right mix of old and new, but with opinions split right down the middle, far too many aren’t giving the film its due.