"Last Tango in the Game Preserve"
"Predators" drops you, literally, into itself. It opens as one of its combatants (Adrien Brody) is in free-fall, with no idea where he's dropped from and no idea where he's dropping to. All he knows is he's in free-fall. He doesn't even know if he'll survive the landing. Or how. All he knows is the panic, the wind, and the thing beeping on his chest in an increasingly accelerating rhythm.
Once he makes land-fall, he finds himself surrounded, by an impenetrable hostile jungle and a rag-tag clutch of mercenaries (Alice Braga, Walton Goggins, Danny Trejo—a new trailer for "Machete" is attached to the print—Oleg Taktarov, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Laurence Fishburne—doing something very, very different this time, brilliantly) and a doctor (Topher Grace?!), an odd-man-out in a team of hostiles from every hot-spot corner of the Earth. First, they must learn to trust each other—they're all loners, but Brody's character is more of a lone-wolf than others, interested only in survival, names are not important, and familiarity breeds empathy and weakness—which quickly becomes irrelevant when they discover that they are part of a deadly game—they are ruthless predators being pursued by an invisible implacable enemy for sport; these hawks have become quail, and they must use their inherent killer-instincts to put themselves in the running foot-steps of so may of their victims. The predators have become prey.
The "Predator" series was never a great series of films. The first one, with Arnold Schwarzenegger (which is referenced here) was the only good edition and it quickly degenerated into an also-ran cousin of the "Alien" series (and Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None"). The concept didn't have anywhere else to go; it was a "one-idea" pursuit film that resisted expansion or depth...until this one. "Predators" (directed by Nimród Antal) slightly expands the concept and heaps on the irony of cut-throats getting their just desserts, while also giving the participants more back-story than the "Dirty Half-Dozen-or-so" of the first film. Antal crams a lot into the story, never sacrificing pace, suspense or the "wtf?" quality necessary for this kind of "out-of-their-depth" story. It also manages to pay homage to fiction's Rosetta Stone of this sub-genre, Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game." TMDG was at the core of the original, but "Predators" manages to take it several steps further, even incorporating that other "man-hunters-in-the-jungle" story, Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" (yes, the basis for "Apocalypse Now") in a sub-plot.
Busy, busy film. And adroit. Tough-minded and unsentimental. Perverse and holding deeper truths...there's even a hint of a mystery story in there. Entertaining and satisfying, if this is your bucket of blood.* Personally, this one tops the original, with a fine cast—who'd have though Academy-Award-winner Brody would be so effective in a role like this?**—and higher ambitions that it handles efficiently. A product of Robert Rodriguez's Troublemaker Studios, it shows how excellently this brand of B-movie entertainment can be produced.
"Predators" is a Matinee
* And it is violent...one scene has a predator ripping the spine and skull of a victim from its carcass and bellowing in its victory. Despite the implausibility of such an act (ever try to do that with a chicken?), it's a powerful scene. Filmed obliquely—the film is a hard "R," but doesn't stray into "X" territory (which you have to be REALLY over-the-top to earn from the Ratings Board)—it's a visceral moment.
** Roman Polanski, probably. On second consideration, the whole of "The Pianist" is a similar story of being hunted during WWII, and Brody made you feel every twitch of his nerves in that one. If you haven't seen that film (and I also delayed watching it for a long time because, frankly, I didn't want to see another film about The Holocaust), you owe yourself to get a copy and view it.