Skip to main content

What is this, the Titanic? Screw the women and children first shit, man.

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem
(2007)

(SPOILERS) The brutal evidence, if any were needed, that Fox had no interest in the quality of its franchise(s), let alone admiring their purity. There’s almost (I stress almost) something beserkly admirable about Alien vs. Predator: Requiem’s flagrant disregard for anything and everything that set the primary series apart or made it distinctive. You might, at a stretch, argue this is a not bad Predator movie, in that it gives Wolf (not the Gladiator, alas; informally named after the Pulp Fiction character Harvey Keitel has since trodden into the dirt and repeatedly stamped on in a series of whorish adverts) motivation and everything, but that’s really doing it too much credit: AVPR is simply a bad movie.


I hadn’t seen this since its release, when I was marginally more charitable to its appetite for transgressive behaviour. And, to give it its backhanded due, in the establishing sections, the marriage of never-destined-to-meet genre subplots is at least bizarrely arresting; I doubt anyone ever thought they’d see a teen bullying/romance storyline vying for attention with xenomorphs. And, which is more of a reflection on AVP than an endorsement of Requiem, the characters are generally more engaging than they were in the PWSA movie. But still…


Shane Salerno, as well as working on AVP, has a number of cinematically antisocial credits to his name including the Shaft remake and Ghostrider. Who knows, perhaps he’s just gotten unlucky, and his name being attached to Avatar 4, the Fantastic Voyage remake and Frankie Machine is a sign of a writer with untapped potential. As far as I can tell, though, Salerno has to cop the blame for Requiem, since the Strausse brothers came in after the fact, despite having pitched an idea for the original AVP. Yes… the Strausse brothers, Colin and Greg, effects guys who made the leap to feature directing with this (their résumé previously included a Nickelback video) and subsequently made the flat-out dreadful Skyline, which if nothing else, which it wasn’t, was an ad for their effects work; they haven’t returned to calling the shots since, but still keep very busy with the old visuals.


That knowledge might have come in too handy for Requiem, as half the time it’s nigh-on impossible to understand what’s going on in any given sequence. Sure, you want to light something to the advantage of the creatures, to make them as effective as possible, but you don’t want to rob the audience of any investment in the proceeds through abject blindness. Although, in the case of the star attraction, the “Predalien” (I mean, really – it’s telling that it was originally killed off in the first scene but execs were so impressed by it, they opted to retain the prime antagonist throughout), that might not have been such a bad idea, since it’s a dumb concept rendered in a manner that makes it entirely devoid of essential alien-ness. When two familiar characters are conjoined, they become part of the furniture.


Occasionally, the incongruity of dumping this universe in present day Colorado has a payoff, be it a face hugger in a woodland setting or an alien in a swimming pool, but mostly it has the effect of diminishing the whole deal. Salerno does exactly what PWSA, in his relative wisdom, expressly eschewed, and dives into a scenario that conflicts with the entire basis of the alien-verse. In this version, Predators and xenomorphs have been known about, have been identified, for more than 100 years at the point of Alien, and there’s nothing mysterious or exciting about them. There’s even rather tired Terminator 2-ing, where we see Ms Yutani with the Predator gun as a spur to scientific advancement (as mythology goes, we also glimpse the Predator homeworld, but I doubt it elicited much pant-wetting, even from diehards).


As did PWSA, Salerno and the Strausses, impatient and desirous to cut to the chase, also fiddle with the life cycle of the alien. The Predalian (I don’t want to think the word, let alone use it, but I can’t help myself) queen can directly implant alien embryos that chew their way out of their host’s abdomen. In this case, indicative of an almost petulant, wilful indulgence in the worst taste possible (perhaps nursing the delusion it will redeem the franchise of the PG-13 thrills of the previous instalment), the queen impregnates a pregnant woman in a hospital bed while other pregnant patients scream on in understandable terror. 


We also see the Predalien eyeing up an entire maternity ward full of babies; presumably, it was felt showing the slaughter might be a step too far, even for a movie that, in one of the initial scenes, shows not only a face hugger leaping onto a small boy, but then also has him wake up, observe an alien erupt from his father’s chest, and then suffer the indignity of one bursting from his. Bad taste doesn’t even begin to sum up the Strausse brothers’ approach.


Nevertheless, before AVPR becomes a generic aliens run around, when it’s a small-town movie you’ve seen a million times before but aliens and predators pop in and out periodically, there are some effectively dark moments riffing on old concepts. “It’s outside the window… the monster” Reiko’s daughter announces, as her parents reassure her, before a xenomorph breaks in and kills daddy (True Blood’s Sam Trammell). And the young lead’s just-about girlfriend (Kristen Hager) gets offed by an alien when she’d normally be a shoe-in to make it to the final reel (I guess she’s a bit too loose, trope-wise). I’d like to say, with better directors and a better script, this could have worked, but really, it’s the mere relocation that does the xenomorph ill. It’s oddball to throw it in an arena where we would normally see Jason or Freddy (indeed, in this scenario, the Predator is the blundering axe-wielding Voorhees while the xenomorph is the violating, sexually invasive Kruger), but that doesn’t make it intriguing, or something worthwhile. At points, it’s a bit like watching Gremlins without the laughs, satire, or any kind of narrative acumen.


Besides the Predalien, I don’t have anything really negative to say about the design work. And I quite like the idea of a Predator cop, like Columbo with dreads, although in practice he’s more Victor the Cleaner (Mr Wolf being an obvious Tarantino steal from Luc Besson), suggesting some kind of space non-interference treaty the Predators must abide by (dubiously – either that or Wolf is incredibly anal), but he still seems to spend much of the proceedings doing things that aren’t at all smart, drawing attention to his movements (hanging up skinned bodies) as much as he covers his tracks. And then there’s the absurd moment when the Predalien waits around for Wolf to remove his helmet before they square off.


Ultimately, Wolf has no more character rigour than any of the humans, but that’s still more than AVP gave us. Casting wise, I do quite like 24-vet Reiko Aylesworth as a squaddie. She’s as underwritten as anything in AVP (required to rekindle her maternal relationship with a tot, is right when the authorities are wrong, and even manages to have a laugh with studly Steven Pasquale at the end, so her hubby can’t have been all that important, and that’s about it). Pasquale, Johnny Lewis (of Sons of Anarchy, who had a particularly troubled life and end) and John Ortiz (never a big fan, but he’s reasonably well cast here as a wavering cop) all make an impression, which is to their credit, rather than Salerno’s. It has been suggested that the likes of Arnie and Danny Glover and Bill Paxton were all lined up for cameos, so fortunate for them that schedules didn’t permit (or that’s what they told the makers, at any rate). And no, “Get to the chopper!” isn’t cute.


It probably seems like splitting hairs to compare and contrast AVPR and AVP quality-wise, but at least with the former there’s a sense that it’s trying to come up with a ruse to make its setting work. You can blame it for leading into this, but the makers could just have chosen to have the Predator ship crash on the Moon. Or Mars.


Alien vs. Predator: Requiem is a rotten idea for a movie, shot through with tonal and conceptual dissonance, but it isn’t actually a chore to watch for most of its brief running time: only really when the Strausses decide to shroud the action in darkness. They evidently much prefer the Predators to the aliens too, since aside from the odd moment, this is probably the xenomorphs’ least impressive appearance in terms of general disposish. The only real surprise is that it would take only three and five years respectively for the franchises to come out to play again. The fortunate side effect of a movie hardly anyone wanted to see and those who did deigned to forget.





Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

They literally call themselves “Decepticons”. That doesn’t set off any red flags?

Bumblebee  (2018)
(SPOILERS) Bumblebee is by some distance the best Transformers movie, simply by dint of having a smattering of heart (one might argue the first Shia LaBeouf one also does, and it’s certainly significantly better than the others, but it’s still a soulless Michael Bay “machine”). Laika VP and director Travis Knight brings personality to a series that has traditionally consisted of shamelessly selling product, by way of a nostalgia piece that nods to the likes of Herbie (the original), The Iron Giant and even Robocop.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Welcome to the future. Life is good. But it can be better.

20 to See in 2020
Not all of these movies may find a release date in 2020, given Hollywood’s propensity for shunting around in the schedules along with the vagaries of post-production. Of my 21 to See in 2019, there’s still Fonzo, Benedetta, You Should Have Left, Boss Level and the scared-from-its-alloted-date The Hunt yet to see the light of day. I’ve re-included The French Dispatch here, however. I've yet to see Serenity and The Dead Don’t Die. Of the rest, none were wholly rewarding. Netflix gave us some disappointments, both low profile (Velvet Buzzsaw, In the Shadow of the Moon) and high (The Irishman), and a number of blockbusters underwhelmed to a greater or lesser extent (Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Terminator: Dark Fate, Gemini Man, Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker). Others (Knives Out, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum) were interesting but flawed. Even the more potentially out there (Joker, Us, Glass, Rocketman) couldn…

It’s like an angry white man’s basement in here.

Bad Boys for Life (2020)
(SPOILERS) The reviews for Bad Boys for Life have, perhaps surprisingly, skewed positive, given that it seemed exactly the kind of beleaguered sequel to get slaughtered by critics. Particularly so since, while it’s a pleasure to see Will Smith and Martin Lawrence back together as Mike and Marcus, the attempts to validate this third outing as a more mature, reflective take on their buddy cops is somewhat overstated. Indeed, those moments of reflection or taking stock arguably tend to make the movie as a whole that much glibber, swiftly succeeded as they are by lashings of gleeful ultra-violence or humorous shtick. Under Michael Bay, who didn’t know the definition of a lull, these pictures scorned any opportunity to pause long enough to assess the damage, and were healthier, so to speak, for that. Without him, Bad Boys for Life’s beats often skew closer to standard 90s action fare.

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

You’re a slut with a snake in your mouth. Die!

Mickey One (1965)
(SPOILERS) Apparently this early – as in, two years before the one that made them both highly sought-after trailblazers of “New Hollywood” – teaming between Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn has undergone a re-evaluation since its initial commercial and critical drubbing. I’m not sure about all that. Mickey One still seems fatally half-cocked to me, with Penn making a meal of imitating the stylistic qualities that came relatively naturally – or at least, Gallically – to the New Wave.