20 January, 2015

The Predliest Game

A Review of Predator #3
Part Thirteen of "James Versus Fire and Stone"

There isn't much more to say about this book that I haven't said already. It's like a good AC/DC album. Do you like what AC/DC does? Well, issue #3 is another AC/DC album. Go buy it because you like good things. Instead, this week, I want to talk about the Predator movies.

As a kid Predator sits alongside The Terminator, Aliens, MIA, and First Blood: Part II. It was part of the canon that I gradually built up over the years watching action movies on a Saturday afternoon. As such, it digs deep into my cache of nostalgia. As such, it's one of these great action movies of a certain era. But, then, I turned eleven. And then twelve and then, at some point, I was poisoned by film studies and here I am, three hundred dollars deep in Bunuel films. And I don't know that Predator is as great of a film as I remember it.

In the cold light of day Predator lacks a certain something that other action movies of the era have. Die Hard has more high moments and it actually manages to be about something. The Terminator is a movie that has a lot going on with it thematically. Even First Blood: Part II (and MIA 2) is about something that is in the public consciousness. Predator, though? It's The Deadliest Game with a monster and muscles instead of characters. It's a lot of violence and special effects concealing the fact that it isn't a movie about anything more than violence and special effects (and that awesome score).

But it still stands out there on it's own as a film of some importance. I mean, it still has comics and sequels and over priced statues coming out with its name over twenty years later. Why? Why any of it? Why these sequels? Why these movies? What is it about this aesthetic that survives? Why does Enemy Mine and Outland  and even Blade Runner languish, yet Predator keeps on chugging along?

Well, it's kind of obvious: It's Arnold Schwarzenegger. Between the years 1985 and 1998, he was the coolest man in the world. And, at the time, perhaps the coolest man of all time. I re-watched Terminator 2 fairly recently and remembering just how important Arnold was to pop culture in the early 90's is staggering. He's a titan in a way that movie stars just are not any more. He isn't an actor, he's a movie star.

And he fucking sells the shit out of Predator. I talked about this when I reviewed Lone Survivor, but commandos in movies don't look like how commandos look in real life. But Schwarzenegger looks like our idea of a commando. He looks like the type of guy who could hike a hundred miles through a jungle to kill a narco-state dictator and then hike another hundred miles out. And that type of guy is a greased up, Austrian adonis. Him, along with the bulging, oiled up hulks that make up the rest of his cast, the movie somehow manages to work. At least, it works far better than it should.

Now, Predator 2, there's a movie I don't remember much of. I know that it's tinged with racist imagery. I also know that it was the first time my friend and I paused a movie to see a woman's vagina (or, more likely, a merkin). It also has a few set pieces that are really pretty solid. Outside of that, I don't know. Danny Glover? Really? Also, it is fun to watch a movie about what a gang infested hell hole that LA was. A certain part of me is sad that that image of Los Angeles has been lost to time. I mean, even the LA River is kind of nice now. How the hell is a Predator supposed to operate in an atmosphere like that? There's probably a fucking artisinal handbag store where Predator scored his first kill in this movie.

The AvP movies are garbage without value. They are the gutters beneath the gutters beneath an asylum paved over by good, upstanding public works officials. They are films in that, at some point, light passed through a lens to make an image. The first one was tolerable and the second one, as I have repeatedly stated, is one of the worst movies that I have ever seen. And I've seen Lemora and the first Hobbit movie.

Now, Predators. . . There's a real bummer of a movie. Predator works for a lot of reasons that I have stated above, but one reason it survives to this day and why it had such a good second life on TV was because there wasn't anything else like it. The movie looked great, it had a cool design, an enemy that we had never seen before, Jessie Ventura, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It doesn't all work, but it's a unique movie. That isn't true of 2011's Predators.

We've survived two crossovers, a sequel nobody liked, a heap of bad video games, comics, tie-in novels, and more references to it than I could count. By this time the Predator is not the unique artifact that it once was. It's a going concern. That's the problem with Predators, by the time it came out, it was just another installment in a flagging franchise. It isn't original and it isn't very good. It's just a pile of semi-flavored mush with a name you recognize.

Based on an semi-abandoned Robert Rodriguez script, Predators tells the tale of a collection of GI Joe villains dropped into a jungle, who are then forced to team up and fight, who else? The Predators. Also, some slightly larger Predators, who I guess are bad guys? Like, worse guys?

But, whatever. The movie completely misses the point. Predator was never about the Predator! It was about Arnold! Without him, you don't have a film anyone cares about. You just have special effects (which do not impress like they did in the early 90's) and a bunch of actors and some updated gore effects. That isn't a movie worth watching.

Schwarzenegger, for years, survived just off of being Arnold Schwarzenegger. And, as a corollary, all of his films are elevated simply for him being in it. Is Commando enjoyable without him in it? Would you have ever watched Junior or Kindegarten Cop without Mr. Universe in it? Predator is the same way. It's a cut-rate, straight-to-video film that just happens to star the world's biggest movie star and that one fact makes all the difference (though it does have some pretty killer one-liners, I'll give it that).

Predators has more actors, more special effects, and more names behind the production, yet, it's this featureless, entirely missable film. Why? No Arnold.

Fortunately Shane Black is supposed to be working on Predator 4 (Jesus, is that all? It seems like so many more). As fed-up as I am with re-hashes of busted, old properties, at least this one has a potential to be good. He's a talented filmmaker who also has history with the series. So, best of luck to him and everyone else. At the very least it might help hose out some of the stink the AvP movies have left lying around.

All that said Joshua Williamson and Chris Mooneyham have turned out the best thing in the Predator series since perhaps. . . Uh, well, Predator. I said it before, I'll say it again: It's fun, go read it.

And speaking of Enemy Mine, I would watch a crossover of Enemy Mine and Predator. Now there's a crossover that would work. Somebody get Joshua Williamson on the phone. Wait. . . I'm pretty sure I can do that. Alright. Hold that thought. I'll be right back. . .


Predator #4 of Fire and Stone receives FOUR FACEHUGGERS OUT OF FIVE for its continued competence, it's sense of fun, and it's wonderful art. As much as I am looking forward to the conclusion of this story (it's going to have a Predator/Engineer fight!), I really hope Williamson and Mooneyham carry on with this book. A thousand more years to these gosh-darn sons of onions!

You can read the previous installments of "James Versus Fire and Stone" below:
Aliens #4
Prometheus #4
Alien Versus Predator #3
Aliens #3
Predator #2
Prometheus #3
Alien Versus Predator #2
Aliens #2
Predator #1
Alien #1 and Prometheus #1