Predators opens to immediate action as Adrien Brody's character, the hardened mercenary Royce, awakens mid freefall from a jump he does not remember taking. After a nick-of-time parachute deployment, he finds himself in a thick, mysterious underbrush. Viewers are gradually introduced to the rest of the major players as they drop in from the sky. Alice Braga plays Isabelle, a talented sniper who serves as the compassionate foil to Brody's heartless cynic. Danny Trejo reprises his signature role as the "scary Mexican guy," and Topher Grace makes a surprisingly not grating appearance as a doctor with a mysterious part to play. As the team of eight survivors meets up, the pieces start to come together. A former US Black-Ops soldier turned mercenary, a trained sniper, a drug cartel thug, a death-row inmate, an African death-squad enforcer, a Russian Spetsnaz heavy weapons guy, and a Yakuza member. With the exception of Grace's role, each of these characters is a hardened killing machine.
It does not take the team long to realize that they are not on Earth, and that they have been assembled for a purpose. They begin their slog through the underbrush, and it is not long before their pursuers give chase, and their numbers start to thin. Like the 1987 original, Predators is short on exposition and long on action. The audience is left to discover elements of the story as the characters themselves make the realizations. Pacing the film this way was an excellent decision that is in keeping with the survival and light horror elements that the franchise is known for. Veteran fans will find themselves in familiar territory, while newcomers should be hooked from the get-go. The action scenes are particularly enjoyable, and few single encounters overstays their welcome. Giving more than a nod to classic Kurosawa films, Hanzo's samurai-style showdown with a claw-wielding Predator in a grassy field is particularly iconic. Royce's final, fireside battle with the largest of the alien creatures is also satisfyingly brutal, and is sure to be remembered.
(As the largely silent Hanzo, Louis Changchien faces his alien assailant in an battle of skill and honor. Easily one of Predators' standout moments.)
The first moments of Predators had me worried that by using too many references, the movie would forget to establish its own identity. This is luckily not the case. Braga's Isabelle, for instance, is stronger and more enjoyable female alternative to the largely useless Anna in the original movie. As Royce, Brody's acting talent also goes a long way in building a powerful lead that is far more than a one dimensional muscle head. Antal's film also makes some interesting contributions to the Predator lore that should shake up fan communities for some time. These new plot points include the introduction of spiny Predator hunting dogs, and the revelation that merciless hierarchy exists in Predator society.
(Royce and Isabelle are more dynamic characters than their 1987 predecessors)
Predators does make a number of missteps that are worth pointing out. Laurence Fishburne makes a brief appearance as a the crazed Noland. As a survivor of ten hunting seasons on the Predator's game planet, he is clearly meant to evoke the classic Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now Kurtz stereotype. Though a competent performance his scenes fall rather flat, and the metal walls of the abandoned alien craft in which they occur feel tremendously out of place in what is otherwise a rather wild, organic movie. The Predator dogs, though an interesting idea in the story, fail to produce any real feeling of threat. Their artificial CG appearance clashes with the natural jungle, and is not quite in keeping with the higher rubber and makeup standard of the Predators themselves. Finally, Brody sometimes sinks into using the forced, raspy tough guy voice that Christian Bale has unfortunately plagued the movie world with in Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise, and the recent Terminator: Salvation (2009). Whether this was the choice of Brody or Antal is unclear, but it is a disappointing move that does discredit to the obvious acting talents possessed by the star of The Pianist (2002).
All in all, Predators delivers on its promise of bringing forward a new franchise entry worth talking about. Director Nimrod Antal puts his excellent cast of stock action characters through their paces in what may turn out to be one of the best action films this Summer. By hitting the sweet spot between fanboy remembrance, and exciting new content, Predators manages to please on multiple levels.