From the moment in Predator 2 that
an Alien skull showed up in the background, fans of the
two franchises began salivating for the match-up. Over the
years, rumors circulated. Dark Horse Comics picked up the
banner, releasing several mini-series detailing clashes
between the two species, usually with humans caught in the
middle. Even a videogame offered players the chance to see
this confrontation. And the highest but perhaps most obscure
honor of all - at least two separate action figure lines
have been released in the last decade.
With such a cultural presence, 20th Century
Fox would have been fools not to throw in the towels on
the individual franchises (though Predator had been
effectively and unfortunately considered dead after 2 anyway)
and give the fans what they want. Since it had become a
videogame and a toy line, why not hand it to a writer/director
with experience at gaming, Paul W.S. Anderson?
It's a loss for the Alien franchise,
but a definite charge for Predator. In order to gain
the now-coveted PG-13 rating, the blood and guts have been
toned down, as has the suspense. Instead, Alien Vs. Predator,
or AVP, ends up a satisfying but not particularly
memorable action flick.
Working from his own script, Anderson brings
all his strengths to bear. Always a writer injecting a literate
sensibility into pap, he carefully sets up the reasons for
the humans to be caught in the middle of this battle of
inscrutable killing machines. The premise involves reasonable
archaeological concerns, the discovery of a pyramid combining
features from three different cultures. This ur-pyramid
could unlock secrets of mankind's development, except it's
several hundred feet below the ice in Antarctica.
Anderson devotes at least a third of the
movie to building up his characters, with occasional glimpses
of the Predator ship lurking outside our atmosphere. The
humans' ignorance can be forgiven; as far as expert ice
climber Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) is concerned, the only
dangers they face come from the environment.
But there's some awkward scripting, too,
another hallmark of Anderson. If satellite imagery has picked
up the sub-surface temple, why is there surprise that it
lies underneath an abandoned whaling station, especially
one that Woods talks about as if its abandonment is pretty
famous? You see, it wasn't so much abandoned as discovered
empty, almost exactly one hundred years before.
Once the team gets to the pyramid, however,
all pretense of characterization goes out the window. Instead,
the movie becomes a blueprint for a new videogame (or lifts
sequences from the previous game - anybody played it?).
Somehow, Anderson makes that not nearly as annoying as it
Face-huggers leap about, a lot more mobile
than in previous Alien films. Interior walls shift
like a puzzle, all the better to make the hunting grounds
a challenge for young predators proving their "manhood."
Though charming Italian archaeologist Sebastian De Rosa
(Raoul Bova) does pause to translate hieroglyphics that
explain it all every now and then, these pauses only come
across as cut scenes before the next action challenge.
But it's fun.
Sure, the sleek black aliens have become
significantly less powerful than in the original film. Why,
their acid blood only burns through one layer of Kevlar!
With modern effects, though, they have become more supple.
Anderson has recast them as serpents instead of the insects
they always seemed before, perhaps to be less psychologically
disturbing but also to cast allusions toward Biblical origins.
On the other side, the Predators remain
a race shrouded in mystery. I know it shouldn't, but it
always bothers me wondering how this species completely
devoted to the hunt managed to become starfaring. At least
Anderson retains their strange sense of honor, which provides
more than one tense and cool moment.
Following the pattern established by both
Alien and Chris Claremont's Deadlier of the Species
mini-series, most of the human action revolves around the
tough but still feminine Woods. In that role, Lathan handles
the action well. She's pretty with a hard edge, and a scar
that suggests that she may have had problems on the ice
once or twice.
Of the rest of the cast, only Ewen Bremner
and Lance Henriksen stand out as actors. Many are made visually
striking, but still end up cannon fodder. (Anderson pays
tribute to the comics by naming one of the crew Mark Verheiden,
the writer that handled most of the Alien and AVP
books, but it's impossible to figure out which character
actually has the name.) With his thick Scottish brogue and
boyish enthusiasm, Bremner brings humor and pathos to his
scenes without betraying the tension. Henriksen, playing
billionaire Charles Bishop Weyland, just commands every
one of his moments.
Never mind that his appearance here begs
too much coincidence that he would have a look-alike descendant
in Alien 3 that would create a line of doppelganger
androids named Bishop. AVP is the start of a whole
new franchise, not as smart, not as scary, but definitely
one to appeal to our basest desires to watch creatures beat
the living snot out of each other.
just might make it.