Movie review by Greg Carlson
If one maintains sufficiently low expectations going in, “Alien vs. Predator” is not a completely terrible sci-fi slugfest. Because Twentieth Century Fox opted out of advanced screenings of the film, critics everywhere assumed that a turkey, and not a face-hugger, would be hatching out of the slimy egg laid by the Alien Queen. By now, both the “Predator” and “Alien” franchises reside in the dustbin of once relevant movie cycles. “Alien” was always the powerhouse, with its A-list directors, iconic H.R. Giger design, and its creepy, atmospheric suspense. “Predator” had, well, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Bringing the two worlds together (notwithstanding the clever “Alien” skull in the trophy room in “Predator 2”) is so inherently problematic, even the movie tagline, “Whoever wins, we lose,” alludes to the rub: where do the humans fit in?
Billionaire Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen, murkily and frustratingly linked to his android characters from previous “Alien” movies) invites a ragtag group of scientists and tough guys to a strange archaeological dig beneath the ice of Antarctica. A gigantic temple/pyramid, bearing similarities to the architectural styles of several ancient cultures, has piqued Weyland’s interest, and he has the cash to check it out in person. Outdoor adventurer Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan, effectively assuming the Ellen Ripley-esque role) is predictably skeptical, and offers many dire warnings that the dangerous trip is not worth the risk of life and limb.
Before you can say “bursting ribcage,” the pitiful human explorers figure out what the audience has known since the trailers appeared: they are now trapped in a gruesome war between two of the most lethal interstellar species ever to cause you to spill your popcorn. Writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson puts his imagination into overdrive to explain how the Predators have actually bred Aliens in order to provide worthy prey for their young hunters (the flashback scenes are completely nutty, and also boast some of the best CG shots in the entire movie). The results are as preposterous as one would imagine, but the fanboys came to see Aliens fight Predators, and that is what Anderson intends to deliver.
“Alien vs. Predator” rapidly comes to resemble a video game, as the mostly faceless crew exists only to be killed by either species. While both creepy monsters boast nasty vagina dentata along with their predisposition for either beheading or eviscerating the puny homo sapiens who get in their way, the Predators are just a little bit more bipedal than the Aliens. They also wear helmets and have armor, which further identifies them as thinkers. This information proves important as the movie grinds on, as Alexa has to find a way to take sides in order to survive. Fortunately, Anderson is willing to tinker with the respective mythologies of the title creatures just enough to keep things moving.
Where the movie really fails, however, is in its lack of interest in the human characters. Ridley Scott and James Cameron were able to sketch vivid, individual personalities in their supporting players, but Anderson’s exposition is woefully inadequate – especially considering that the vicious space fiends don’t show up until well into the movie’s running time. Henriksen is wasted, particularly since Anderson chooses not to reveal anything specific about the Bishop android or the Weyland Corporation. Lathan, like Sigourney Weaver, manages to avoid being upstaged by the oozing, dripping puppets, which is no mean feat. The greatest single disappointment, however, is the movie’s PG-13 rating. By hedging its box office bets, Fox hamstrings the drawing power of the original films: unfettered, graphic violence.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 8/16/04.