Have you ever dreamed that you were falling? When Adrien Brody's black ops mercenary wakes up, he discovers it's true - and for him, it's all downhill from there. Landing in an unfamiliar jungle, he comes across other soldiers from disparate units around the world, each with a similar story to tell. There's Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), straight from the battlefields of Chechnya. Mombasa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) from the Sudan. There's Alice Braga's jumpy Israeli operative and Danny Trejo's hulking Mexican mercenary, and so on. Also, curiously, a doctor and a prisoner who had been scheduled to die the following day. "Are we dead?" one man asks, channeling Lost. But no - it's far, far worse than that.

Though it never was strong on story and its characterisation was weak, the first Predator film was a success not just because of its iconic monsters but because of the level of fear it generated. Predators is to that film as Aliens is to Alien. Back then, at least our human heroes were on familiar territory. Now they're hopelessly lost, and it takes a skillful script to keep us believing they have a reason to struggle at all, so desperate is their situation.

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It doesn't take them long to figure out they're being hunted (cue the presence of some new monsters that will thrill fans of the series), but what elevates this is the dynamic between the humans themselves. Rather than present us with a simple chase and string of fights, it sets up complex dynamics within the group that are every bit as gripping. Where Arnie dominated the first film, here Brody's character is matched, at least in terms of willpower, by Braga's. There's no tedious Scooby-Doo style splitting up, or inter-group conflict for its own sake, but the simmering tension means we can never be sure what will happen next, nor who will survive.

Rodriguez has brought his own perspective to the story, and it works well, helping to develop a layered story. This isn't about two technologically powerful groups fighting it out in someone else's territory and screwing over the natives in the process. There are different human stories here and different cultural ones, and they're woven together cleverly so that it takes a while for underlying themes to emerge - and for us to understand what everybody has in common.

The film plays with conflicting ethical ideas and notions of honour, tempting us to forget the deeper injustices at its core, yet it never slackens the pace to make room for this. Rodriguez's up-close, tightly focused direction means our eyes are always drifting toward the shifting focus of the background, hyper-alert for a shimmering Predator cloak. It cultivates a state of paranoia at least as gripping as that in the original.

There are clumsy aspects to this production. Whilst the script is strong, the dialogue is often weak, with cheesy lines blurted out with no apparent awareness of irony. Bursts of exposition are frustrating (though Laurence Fishburne's mysterious survivor certainly adds an interesting dimension to things), but they're countered by some fine acting from Brody, reminding us (as Jake Gyllenhall's recent Prince Of Persia might have done) why it can be worthwhile casting real actors in action roles. He's buffed up for the part, sure, but it's the look in his eyes that demands our attention. This is a scenario in which intelligence matters every bit as much as muscle.

This year sees a lot of films about military teams being set up and fighting against the odds (The A-Team, The Expendables, The Losers...) but Predators seems likely to come out on top. It's unpretentious, happy to be just an action film, and refreshingly good at it. Whilst one might reasonably have hoped for more after all the hype, there's little to complain about, and there are all the scares and thrills you'll need for a great night out. Probably the best film featuring Predators so far, it is a strong idea finally come to fruition.

Reviewed on: 08 Jul 2010
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Parachuted down into an unfamiliar jungle, a group of strangers realise they're being hunted for sport.
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Director: Nimród Antal

Writer: Alex Litvak, Michael Finch, Jim Thomas, John Thomas

Starring: Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Danny Trejo, Alice Braga, Laurence Fishburne, Derek Mears, Walton Goggins, Brian Steele, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Oleg Taktarov, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Carey Jones

Year: 2010

Runtime: 106 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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