Grab the turkey and the mayo, folks. Director Paul W.S. Andersen will provide the cheese.
Andersen -- the same man who left viewers shakin’ in their boots with 1997’s taut Event Horizon and entertained with 2002’s relatively successful adaptation of Resident Evil – now brings us Alien vs. Predator, a middle-of-the-road exercise in special effects that’s as cheesy at times as it can be moderately entertaining: It’s a guilty confection for those salivating at the idea of two legendary sci-fi giants going head-to-head.
A team of scientists and archaeologists, led by billionaire industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henrikson) explore the remains of an ancient pyramid buried some 2,000 feet beneath the Antarctic. Led by Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), the members unwittingly find themselves as hosts or ritual sacrifices for the spawn of an Alien Queen held captive by Predators for millennia. Through deciphering of ancient writings on the walls, the disturbing truth dawns on them and a startling history is revealed. Every 100 years, the Predators come to the pyramid to test their might in an epic battle royale with the Aliens. Things are a bloody mess and the humans are caught in the thick of it.
The concept is a stretch to say the least, but in writer and director Andersen’s defense, it’s hard to imagine a premise that doesn’t border on the ridiculous – and, if you were seeking realism here folks, shelve your disbelief and look elsewhere. Any semblance of a story is merely a backdrop – really, an excuse – to make a popcorn flick in which audiences have the chance to see these two behemoths go mano a mano. But if Andersen is just looking for an excuse to show off some dazzling extraterrestrial smackdown, does he deliver the goods?
The entire film has a decidedly B-level feel to it, from the throwaway dialogue, the lack of any character development (unless death qualifies), and some downright bizarrely laughable moments of – dare I say it – intimacy between a Predator and Lathan’s character. Near the end, with a Predator lying on the ground and Lathan by his side, the two share a tender moment. I almost expected her to hold his hand and violently make-out with him, to which I in turn, would have violently hurled my nachos – and I wasn’t the only one in the audience squirming in my seat at the thought.
Ok, so characters are a dud and dialogue’s left wanting, but how are the battles? Not bad, though they’re not nearly as epic as they could be. The preview proudly shows off a scene where hundreds of Aliens swarm a pyramid en masse, but sadly this epic vision is never fully realized in the entire scheme of the movie. Most fights are one-on-one, at most, roughly two-on-three with the assistance of guns or the occasional spear and shield constructed from an Alien cadaver.
If you’re pushing this film as the answer to a fanboy’s dream, you had better deliver Lord of the Rings-esque battles, with hordes of disposable drones on both sides. I don’t so much care about the individual as I do the idea of hundreds, nay thousands of Aliens and Predators going at it in adversarial bliss. Call me spoiled, but THAT would have been drool-worthy.
That’s not to say the battles in AvP aren’t gripping. There are some genuinely thrilling fights, some decent CGI sparks flying around, but in the end, what audiences are left with – once the smoke and extraterrestrial gunk clears – is a movie which occasionally enthralls, frequently stalls, and leaves you wanting more. Maybe the inevitable sequel will fully satiate us fanboys.
To which I say: Bring it.
Alien Vs. Predator is out August 12, 2004.