I wouldn't say the Predator franchise is the most mishandled in movie history: that dubious honor has too many claimaints to its sorry throne for any one of them to stand out. I would however state for the record that no film featuring the iconic alien hunter with the penchant for invisibility and human skull trophies has ever come close to matching the original in any way, shape, or form. PREDATOR 2 was two hours of entertaining mayhem without much resonance. AVP felt like above-average direct to video fare, and AVP 2 is one of the worst movies I can recall passing before my eyes. Nobody is singing hymns for THE PREDATOR, either. So where does that leave PREDATORS? Let's begin at the beginning.
PREDATORS starts with an American mercenary named Royce (Adrian Brody) regaining consciousness as he plunges through the atmosphere toward an unfamiliar jungle. Upon landing, he quickly meets up with seven other people of similarly scary backgrounds: all professional soldiers (Alice Braga, Oleg Taktarov, Mahershala Ali) or hardened criminals (Walton Goggins, Danny Trejo, Louis Ozawa) from around the world, the one seeming exception being a handsome American doctor (Topher Grace). None of them know where they are or how they got there. Before you can say "if it bleeds, we can kill it," they begin to grasp that they have been collected in this strange, alien place for the purpose of a hunt, except that it is they who are the prey. A group of Predators is stalking them, and since the Predators don't find hunting humans sporting unless the humans are armed, weapons have been provided. Fleeing into the deeps of the forest while fighting for their lives, the group soon stumbles into a survivor of previous hunts, the half-demented Noland (Laurence Fishburne), who reveals some of what he has learned about the Predators and the nature of the jungle they use as their unhappy hunting ground. Royce, though disinterested in leadership (he's the classic, one might say cliched, loner antihero), is nonetheless forced into the role and tries to guide his dwindling band to safety...a very difficult task indeed when he realizes he is not even on his own planet, much less his own neck of the woods.
PREDATORS is what I was refer to as a fairly well-crafted movie without any real resonance. That is to say, it holds your attention while you watch it, but a few hours later you've largely forgotten the experience. Unlike the original, none of the characters are particularly memorable, and even more damningly, none of the dialogue even approaches classic-quote status, a particularly egregious sin when you consider just how eminently quotable PREDTAOR was. The decision to cast Brody as the lead was bold and daring, but ultimately a mistake. Being an Oscar-winner does not confer upon you unlimited range, and Adrian is simply miscast here: his acting feels like acting. With the exception of Fishburne, who is his usual, effective self as the half-crazy survivor who doesn't even know how long he's been on the planet, there are no breakthrough performances. Taktarov is redoubtable as ever, but Trejo is wasted and Grace is giving nothing to do 'til the very end. Braga's performance is solid, but the character is written too rattled, too emotionally needy, to come across credibly as the Israeli sniper the actressis purporting to be.
The Predators themselves, being plural, are less effective for being so: there are four in the film (three "supers" and one "classic") and while the idea of having conflict within the Predator race is interesting, the idea is not explored and doesn't really do anything to advance the story. Indeed, while Nimrod Antal (director) and Robert Rodriguez (producer) went to great lengths insisting that this is a respectful continuation of the storyline rather than a mere remake...it feels like a remake all the same. Scrape away the bells and whistles, of which there are admittedly a number, and the story here is almost identical to the original, right down to the basic setting. What is lacking in this movie, simply put, is that one really decisive moment when it stands out from its progenitor and says "I am my own story!"
For all that, PREDATORS is not a bad flick. It has a strong opening, it held my interest while I was watching it, there is some arresting visual imagery, and there is enough acting wattage to lift it above the usual action fodder. It even hints at some exciting ideas, though it never does more than that. All in all, I'd recommend it for actions fans and fans of the franchise, but I'd advise against going in with any great expectations. Seeing a guy get his spine ripped out is just not as exciting the fourth or fifth time you see it.