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Face-Off: Alien vs. Predator vs. AVP: Requiem

Original PREDATOR cast member Shane Black has returned to the franchise to direct the new sequel THE PREDATOR, which reaches theatres this weekend. While we wait to find out how good or bad that one is, let's take a moment to look back on a couple installments in the series that weren't so well received, the 2004 crossover ALIEN VS. PREDATOR and its 2007 sequel ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM. These monster mashes are widely considered to be the worst films to feature the title creatures, but are they really so bad that they live up to the tagline "Whoever wins, we lose" in an unintended way? Let's see.
SET-UP
Director/co-writer Paul W.S. Anderson defied all expectations with his approach to setting up the titular battle, drawing inspiration from the "alien astronauts" theory to tell us that Predators have been visiting Earth since the dawn of time, helping mankind make scientific advancements and using pyramids for "rite of passage" hunts of the Xenomorphs. You might have thought people didn't encounter Xenomorphs until the future events seen in ALIEN, but that's far from the case. Although Predators have been established to hunt in the heat, this movie is set in a newly discovered underground pyramid on a snowy island 1000 miles off the coast of Antarctica. A group of scientists, archaeologists, and mercenaries venture out to that island when a satellite spots a heat signature from the pyramid, putting them in the middle of the action when the alien fight begins. While the set-up is unexpected but serviceable, the build-up is a bit too long - nearly two-thirds of the movie have gone by before a Predator is really seen fighting a Xenomorph.
There was no build-up necessary in this one, because the first movie was the build-up. AVP co-writer Shane Salerno returned to script a story that picks up right where the previous film left off, with a Xenomorph bursting out of the chest of a Predator on a ship flying away from our planet. The Predalien creature wreaks havoc on the ship, which ends up crashing down in Colorado, giving this hybrid and its Xenomorph buddies a modern American small town to quickly overrun. You've got Alien vs. Predator action in the first few minutes, and not a lot more time has passed before a Predator has arrived in Colorado to take control of this situation. (Because the existence of Xenomorphs still has to remain a mystery to the average person before the events of ALIEN happen down the line.) I'm of the opinion that there never should have been an Alien movie set on modern day Earth, as ALIEN should have been the first encounter between humans and Xenomorphs. At least the first AVP took place on a remote island, not in mainland USA.
PAY-OFF
This was far from the AVP I expected, but there is still something cool about getting to see Predators and Xenomorphs share the screen and tear into each other... with both of them taking down some human victims along the way as well. Xenomorphs clawing Predators and impaling them with their tails, Predators blasting away at and chopping up their alien opponents, one snapping the neck of a chestburster, that's all fun stuff. Anderson does embrace the cheesiness of the concept a bit too much with things like a Predator spinning and tossing a Xenomorph in slow motion, but fans had been waiting more than a decade to see this sort of stuff. It was disappointing that two of the three Predators are killed off so quickly, though.
ALIEN VS. PREDATOR had a decent alien and human body count despite the action being contained in that icebound pyramid. With an entire town to play in, REQUIEM increases the death and action quotient substantially, delivering mayhem that has an apocalyptic feel to it. The town is overrun by Xenomorphs, average citizens and responding military forces are torn apart. No one is safe, young or old - and in an unnecessarily gruesome and horrific touch, we're shown that the Predalien prefers to pump its eggs into the bodies of pregnant women. The movie was clearly trying to be shocking so it could make up for the fact that its predecessor was PG-13. It didn't have to go as far as that pregnant women bit, but all of the other gore is appreciated.
HUMANS
You have to have humans in the middle of a battle like this, and the humans here are some of the most dull and useless characters possible. Most fans would have preferred to have seen Colonial Marines like in ALIENS, instead we get an underwhelming ensemble of mercenaries, an archaeologist, a chemical engineer, and a guide, none of them particularly memorable. Heroine Lex Woods only stands out because a Predator takes her under its wing so they can fight Xenomorphs together; quite an honor for a bland person. The best character is Charles Bishop Weyland, the businessman who leads the expedition because he's suffering from a terminal disease and wants to leave behind a better legacy. He's played by Lance Henriksen, a nice tie-in to the ALIEN franchise.
One of the most prominent characters in REQUIEM is a teenage pizza delivery driver. Of all the ideas the ALIEN and PREDATOR franchises could throw at us, one I never expected to see was a crossover fronted by a pizza boy. That wasn't something I ever wanted to see, either. The pizza boy's love interest, his ex-con brother, the local sheriff, the teenage bullies, none of these characters are remotely interesting. The one who comes off the best is a character who was a shameless attempt to make a new Ripley, a mother who has recently returned from war. She's not great, but she's better than the others. The earlier ALIEN and PREDATOR movies had awesome characters. AVP was a large step down from that, and REQUIEM falls down even further.
EXTRATERRESTRIALS
The Xenomorphs have lost the terrifying edge they had in earlier films, but they still look good and cause plenty of trouble while crawling around in the underground pyramid. In the end, a Queen even gets to battle survivors on the snowy surface. The Predators were a bigger draw for me here - this was their return to the screen after a 13 year wait, and the late Predator performer Kevin Peter Hall had to be replaced by former basketball player Ian Whyte. Whyte actually plays three Predators in the film, all of them inexperienced teenagers going through a rite of passage. Two of them don't last long, but the third proves to be something of a badass, racking up the Xenomorph kills left and right. Whyte played the creature well.
REQUIEM shrouds the Xenomorphs in shadows that are too deep; you can't see much of them, but they do claim a lot of victims. This time they're joined by the disgusting Predalien creature, which has a decent design; you can tell it's a mixture of the two species. Pumping "bellybursters" into pregnant women is just too much for me, though. This time there is only one Predator to take on a whole lot of Xenomorphs, but this is a Predator who is down for the challenge. With Ian Whyte back in the costume, this Predator is the one great thing about this film. It's capable, has impressive hunting and killing skills, and is more reminiscent of the Predators from the first two PREDATOR movies than the teenage Predators of AVP were.
STYLE
I was disappointed when Anderson got the AVP gig because he was following in the footsteps of directors who put their own stylistic stamp on all of the previous ALIEN and PREDATOR movies, and I didn't think he could live up to what came before. The style he brought to the crossover was simply a generic, glossy blockbuster look with MATRIX-inspired moments of slo-mo. This works fine for the most part, but the film could have aimed higher, could have been better, and could have done without some of the more cringeworthy visuals and dialogue exchanges.
ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM was the feature directorial debut of visual effects artists The Brothers Strause, and it was an awful way to get a feature career started. If they brought any of their own style to the film, it's impossible to see in the finished product because the movie is so dark you can barely tell what's happening on the screen. REQUIEM is the most ridiculously dim movie I've ever attempted to watch, making for a very frustrating "viewing" experience. I'm hoping there will be a brightened "Version You've Never Seen" release someday.
ALIEN VS. PREDATOR
Neither ALIEN VS. PREDATOR movie is great, neither of them even come close to reaching the expectations I had for an AVP movie. But I can tell you which one I would rather watch, no question about it. The first ALIEN VS. PREDATOR. That one is sort of an odd, underwhelming disappointment, but it has some entertainment value. Whatever entertainment value its sequel ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM might have had is destroyed by its terrible characters, bad ideas, and extremely dark picture. There is some cool creature action in there, but it's too obscured by the darkness to make the movie worth watching.

Do you agree with the outcome of this Face-Off, or do you think REQUIEM was a step up from the first AVP? (And can you see what's going on in that movie?) Share your thoughts on the AVP duo by leaving a comment below. If you have suggestions for future Face-Off articles, you can send them to me at [email protected].

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