Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
Back in 1987, a small film called "Predator" rolled into theaters. It wasn't the kind of film that you would expect to become a staple of the sci-fi/action genre, but it surprisingly became famous and even spawned a few sequels. It's fair to say that the sequels, which include some team-ups with the creatures from the "Alien" franchise, were not well-received, so it was opted to take the franchise back to its roots.
This reboot of the series begins with Royce (Adrien Brody) free-falling towards the ground, supposedly having been pushed out of a plane. After a parachute saves his life, he meets up with others who have just gone through the same experience including Edwin (Topher Grace), Isabelle (Alice Braga), and Cuchillo (Danny Trejo). They soon discover that most of them have something in common: they are killers from the military, mercenary groups, and even the Yakuza.
While they are trying to figure out where they are and who brought them here, they are attacked by vicious creatures covered in spikes and horns. From this, Royce deduces that they are in a game preserve and are being hunted. However, the spiked creatures are the least of their problems as they are soon faced with their true enemy; a creature that is intelligent, well-trained in combat, and has the ability to see their heat signatures. They have no name for this creature, but those familiar with the series know it simply as a "Predator."
One of the things that the original film had done so well was creating suspense. For most of the film, we have no idea what's attacking this group of soldiers who had been sent to the Central American jungle to rescue hostages. It is only in the last part of the film that we begin to get glimpses of what the Predator actually looks like as it builds the tension with the battle between it and the last survivor.
This is something that Nimród Antal's reboot doesn't do so well. It's not in the fact that we already know what is stalking this group of people because that's just impossible to accomplish after four previous films featuring this creature. It's mainly in the fact that too much is revealed too early. These people don't know what's hunting them, and it seemed like it was no more than 30 minutes before they found out.
Even before that, it is revealed that they are on an alien world. Much more could have been done with that, perhaps as a shock ending instead of the bland set-up for a sequel that they went with. Then there's the final battle itself which had nothing building up to it. The Predators know where the humans are and vice-versa, so there's no use of hunting skills or big opportunities for one to outwit the other except for when one of the survivors tries to confuse the Predator's infrared sensors.
There is a very odd section in the middle of the film that feels as though it puts the movie on pause. This section involves the character of Noland (Laurence Fishburne), who has survived in the game preserve for a long time. This section of the film slows it way down, throwing off the good pacing it had had up until then, just to set-up the rest of the film, which they would have to do somehow anyway. It just seemed like Fishburne's character was completely unnecessary since he doesn't really add anything to the plot.
Character development was never a main priority in the original film, and the same stands for this reboot. Yet, somehow, it felt as though the characters were even less developed. At one point, one of the group members gets caught in something resembling a bear trap. In response to Isabelle's suggestion that they take him with them, Brody's character says something like "That's what they're counting on, for us to feel something for this man." In a sense, that's what the filmmakers are counting on, for us to end up feeling something for these characters, which is hard when the development and the tension aren't there.
To be fair, the film does have some entertainment value. Fans of the series will no doubt be happy to see the Predator creatures battling solo on the big screen once again. While most of the battles involve one character beating on another, there was one interesting fight that I took note of. This fight involved a Predator and the Yakuza member, Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien). It plays out like a traditional samurai battle as Hanzo makes passes at the Predator with only a katana in his hand. It was strange to have this one interesting fight amongst so much bludgeoning.
If this film ends up doing particularly well at the box office, I suppose we can expect a sequel. But before the filmmakers set out to do that, they should go back and revisit the original film to discover what made it good in the first place. It wasn't the violence involved with a bunch of macho guys with guns in the jungle, but rather the mystery, suspense, and tension built up around something unknown with one intelligent being versus another in a battle of cleverness and skills. That was the true essence of "Predator." 2.5/4 stars.