Did you know “Predators” opens soon? I mean, like in about 20 minutes. It’s here, the next installment of a monster movie franchise so successful that there’ve been four of them already. And yes, two of them were horrible. All right, three of them were horrible.
But I live in hope that the Robert Rodriguez-produced reboot, minus the alien from “Alien” but plus Adrien Brody, will spark some life into these hot grumpy months. “Toy Story 3” can’t carry all the burden of an entire summer’s entertainment on its shoulders.
So I expect to be deliriously entertained by the new Predator and his pals. I have to. I couldn’t do my film criticky job properly if I entered every screening assuming the worst was about to take place. I believe in the power of every film to make me happy, at least until I’m right there in the thick of it feeling my soul destroyed (looking at you, “Grown Ups”).
One problem, “Predators” seems to be missing in action from anyone’s marketing agenda. I don’t see TV spots. I don’t see digital billboards that jump and dance and count down the days. I don’t see monster heads on the sides of buses. You’d think there wasn’t a movie opening.
Is that any way to treat the legacy of the awesome 1987 “Predator?” No, it’s not. If you never saw that one because you hate stuff that’s great, it’s the one where Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura and a band of commandos battle (and are mostly decimated by) an invisible alien force in Central America. It’s in the jungle so it’s just like Vietnam and the monster is invisible so it’s just like The Cold War, the perfect fusion of 80s metaphorically political action/sci-fi/monster/slasher movies.
The Predator also turns out to be a pretty idiosyncratic guy. He’s got a helmet in the shape of a duck’s face but wears dreadlocks, he leaves no tracks but bleeds green slime, he loves to caress the flesh-stripped skulls of his victims, he repeats any words he hears like a toddler, he hates sexist jokes and he can be easily tricked by humans who rub mud and twigs all over themselves as camouflage. Immensely satisfying.
Replacing Arnold and Jesse: Topher and Adrien?
The new film takes place in a similarly militaristic environment, on an alien planet where elite murderers have been dumped in order to fight new super-Predators. That premise promises violence, R-rated violence, and that’s good news. More good news: Danny Trejo, the meanest-looking guy alive (and star of Rodriguez’s upcoming “Machete,” based on the fake movie trailer in “Grindhouse,”) is on board as one of the elite murderers. That’s good casting.
Now, you will also have to accept as true that Topher Grace is one of the elite murderers. You have to accept that Adrien Brody is one, too. But I can do both of those things because I tend and water my imagination like a beautiful garden.
Another reason for hope: I’m a Robert Rodriguez fan and I think I have good reason to be. He's a genre filmmaker who understands his place in the world, good at delivering the right kind of trash. He dives deeply into it and rolls around there, not pretending he’s giving you something classier.
And there’s trash in the Predator’s past, too. If you saw 1990's “Predator 2,” then you remember how Predator zoomed through the galaxy to a future 1997 Los Angeles and laid waste to not only hilariously voodoo-crazed Jamaican drug lords but also every single person wearing pleated pants in the entire city, which was pretty much everyone. Except Gary Busey. He wore an aluminum foil suit and Predator sliced him in half with a metallic space Frisbee. It was, like the first film, but in an entirely different way, also immensely satisfying in the way that sleazy garbage often is, a great, bloody, cocainey sendoff to the 1980s.
Let's go, monsters, let's go!
I’m glad this time the Predators will be locking horns with humans only. That’s because “AVP: Alien vs Predator” (2004) and “AVPR: Aliens vs Predator: Requiem” (2007) were boring times two. Both films forgot that violence needs to be taking place on screen at all times and that when monsters fight it should be at the expense of all human life around them. These films should fade away, an insult to fans of monster-fighting the world over. I’d sooner watch "Godzilla vs Biollante" again. You know what Biollante was? A giant flower. So, yeah.
But mostly I have high hopes because I just flat-out love monsters. I want the best from them and for them. Aside from the Franken-bird-girl of the unexpectedly cool “Splice,” and aside from “Piranha 3D,” which technically isn’t really a monster movie, “Predators” is all we monster fans can expect from this summer. And in spite of their reputation as mindless entertainment, a good monster movie done well can be beautiful pop art. If you saw the recent Korean movie “The Host,” you know what I mean.
Plus, the Predators come equipped with great monster features, like thermal eyeball heat vision, laser fingers, goth-like petulance and a sadistic streak that shows itself every time one of them toys with a victim before skinning that person alive. What’s not to love about a dude like that?
Now, obviously, I’m willing to eat my words here if it all turns out wrong and this fifth film tips the scale irrevocably into boredom territory — I don’t defend the repeatedly abusive spouse by saying, “No, really, sometimes he’s so good to me!”— but for now I’m just excited.
Don’t let me down, Predator. I’m counting on you. Bring your gross green slime and save this drab summer movie season from itself.
Dave White is a film critic for Movies.com