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Adrien Brody in Predators

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

PREDATORS marks Hollywood’s latest attempt to reboot a franchise that had apparently run out of steam following the pointless Aliens Vs Predators spin-offs. Incredibly, it’s a major return to form.

Based on a dusted off screenplay by Robert Rodriguez (who produces) and directed with brutal efficiency by Nimrod (Vacancy) Antal, the film serves as more of an official sequel to the original 1987 hit than anything that has since followed.

As such, it uses most of what worked about that Arnold Schwarzenegger star vehicle (from jungle settings, to hunt and kill scenario), while bringing in a few alternative nods of its own to move the story forward. It also plays to the strengths of a great, and admittedly surprising cast, which is led by Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody and including comedian Topher Grace and ‘icon’ figures such as Laurence Fishburne and Danny Trejo.

The plot is simple but fun. Eight people – mostly professional soldiers and criminals, but including one mysterious doctor – are plunged (literally) into a jungle on an alien planet. They don’t know how they got there, or why, but must quickly learn to co-operate with each other to ensure their survival, as an unseen enemy (or enemies) is stalking them for sport.

Included among their line-up is Brody’s efficient mercenary, who is more used to working on his own, Alice Braga’s sniper, Oleg Taktarov’s Russian soldier, Walton Goggins’ Death Row prisoner, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali’s African Death Squad killer, Topher Grace’s doc, Danny Trejo’s cartel hatchet man and Louis Ozawa Changchien’s Yakuza member.

Antal takes time to build a genuine sense of tension (it’s almost half an hour before we see the first Predator), invoking the same sense of sweaty atmosphere as John McTiernan’s original, while enabling each of his cast members to create some semblance of character.

But he also delivers the violence in an unfussy, no-nonsense style (how the film managed a 15 certificate is a little baffling) that will keep the die-hard franchise gore-hounds suitably fed.

It all adds up to an extremely satisfying whole… one that plays to its strengths rather than venturing too far into new areas; but one – by the same token – that has far more fun in its alien planet than James Cameron’s Avatar, and which has a greater shading of characters and morality than Cameron’s black and white creations.

His cast, too, respond to the physical requirements in believable fashion, while embellishing most of their characters with notable traits. Brody is the pick of the bunch, and is sure to surprise a lot of people with his action man reinvention (mixing brawn with brains in convincing fashion), but Grace is good value as the doc, Braga combines femininity with feistiness and Changchien provides a suitably enigmatic sword-smith (culminating in a wonderful encounter with one of the predators).

The set pieces, themselves, are more solid than overly spectacular or memorable, but sufficiently brutal to leave you occasionally wincing.

If there’s a criticism, it’s that Fishburne’s extended cameo actually wastes a promising character and that some of the humour veers towards the jet black and distasteful (particularly in regard to Goggins’ sex offender character).

But as reboots go, it’s one of the more worthwhile that expertly delivers far more thrills and spills than fans may initially have been anticipating. It’s a full-blooded blockbuster that breathes fresh life into an ailing franchise… and one that’s definitely worth seeing at the earliest opportunity.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 107mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: November 1, 2010