I'm a huge fan of the Alien franchise. Sure, you say, that's easy. Alien and Aliens are among the best (if not the best) science fiction horror films of all time, but I'm a big enough fan of the series that I still like Alien3 and, yes, even Alien: Resurrection. I love the way that each film is tackled by a new director who puts such a unique and individual stamp on his (because they're all directed by men) entry that while they're all part of the same series and feature 1) Sigourney Weaver as Ripley and 2) aliens, they couldn't be more different from one another. The franchise is unique in that way.
I also like the Predator series. I've written before about the first film, which made a HUGE impact on my as a 10-year old and is a big contributing factor in developing my love of #HeavyAction. I'm less enthused with Predator 2, but love what they were trying for and can find a ton of stuff to like in it. I like the series enough that I even like Predators despite the fact that it's basically just a redo of the first movie. Unlike the Alien series, this one was repeating itself by the third film. At least it manages to do that pretty well.
Predators probably wouldn't exist at all if it weren't for producer Robert Rodriguez's desire to get back to basics after the shitfest that is 2004's Alien vs. Predator, a piece of IP crossover garbage that is inept in every way. I hated it 10 years ago and have avoided it ever since. Revisiting the movie now reveals that my feelings haven't changed, only strengthened. As my affection for both franchises deepens in my advanced age, my distaste for this piece of shit has gotten so much worse.
Alien vs. Predator began its movie life as an Easter Egg during the finale of Predator 2, during which Danny Glover is walking around the Predator ship and in the background of the trophy room we can clearly see a Xenomorph skull. It was just one of those cool fucking things for fans that didn't need to be explored any further, in the same way that Freddy's glove appearing in the final shot of Jason Goes to Hell was a fun gag that did not need its own movie. This was in the days before everything was part of a shared universe, so seeing two unrelated properties (particularly two that I liked) cross over was a real novelty.
Around the same time, Dark Horse had begun publishing Alien vs. Predator comics, which 13-year old me read rapturously despite the fact that I really only liked them because they had Aliens and Predators in them. The comics gave way to a popular video game and a couple of crossover novels, and because Fox owns both properties they were eventually able to put an Alien vs. Predator film into production as early as 1991, a full 13 years before it actually made it to screen. They should have left it alone.
So I don't know where to start addressing my problems with the movie, because I'm not sure I can separate them on a case by case basis. It's the sum total that I dislike. I think it's a failure of conception to set the movie 2,000 feet beneath the arctic, as it makes all the visuals look the same -- the entire palette is a kind of white-grey-green color. I don't think it's totally wrong for a Predator movie, just that it's wrong for this Predator movie. If we're going to see Aliens and Predators go at one another, it should be in the setting of either a) an Earthbound landscape that we recognize or b) outer space. I'm not opposed to seeing a solo Predator movie against a snowy backdrop. In fact, when I was 11 or 12 my friends and I began planning to make our own Predator sequel which we were going to set in the snow, because it's the opposite of the jungle. That's as creative as you can get when you're 11 or when you're Paul W.S. Anderson.
One of the strengths of both the Alien and Predator series is the strength of their characters. Both films (the first couple, anyway) have simple but effective characters with well-defined personalities, memorably played by talented actors. One would think that AvP would at least take this to heart and offer up a few strong human characters to caught in the crossfire of this war between the two races. Instead, the screenwriters of AvP (Anderson and Shane Salerno) go another way and populate the film with nondescript Europeans. I couldn't tell you one thing about any of them except that one of them is Spud from Trainspotting and one is Tommy Flanagan, that Scottish guy with the scar on his face who is in a ton of movies (including Braveheart and Sin City) and is on Sons of Anarchy (R.I.P. Sons of Anarchy). I love Sanaa Lathan, but even she doesn't have a character to play -- she is defined by the fact that she does not die and has a vagina.
About an hour into the film, the Predators and the Aliens finally come face to face and duke it out. This is what we've been waiting for, right? Wrong. Aside from the initial would-be iconic shot of the two monsters staring one another down in the same frame, the rest of the "fight" is stupid. Anderson doesn't realize that, of course, so he stages the whole sequence like it's some Battle of the Titans we've looked forward to seeing our entire lives. It's not Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman. It's not even Freddy vs. Jason. It's also pretty uninteresting, especially because there's a lot of one-on-one fights. The strength of the Xenomorph is that there's a bunch of them (except for when there isn't, like in the original Alien, but at least it has the element of surprise) and that they just keep coming, so logic would dictate the best way to stage these scenes is to watch a Predator take on dozens of bugs at a time. I think this happens once or twice, but it's usually a single Predator fighting a single Xenomorph, which Anderson is only interested in representing visually by showing their differently-colored blood.
Three quarters of the way through the film there is an exposition dump that flashes back to the Predators being treated as Gods in ancient Egypt, as we're told they would visit Earth every 100 years and actually taught the Egyptian how to build the pyramids. WHAT THE FUCK. It is as stupid as it sounds, especially when it climaxes in a computer-animated shot of thousands of Xenomorphs climbing the pyramids as a Predator stands atop it fighting them off. This is ridiculous and it is terrible, but it contains what might be the movie's only interesting idea: that Predators breed Xenomorphs to hunt for sport, using humans as the vessels in which they can incubate. It's a reasonably clever way of bringing the two mythologies together, even if it ruins the entire Alien franchise in retrospect. Are we now to believe that they've been seeded all over the galaxy? That every time Ripley has encountered a Xenomorph off world it's because a Predator was there first?
Event Horizon podcast a few weeks back to a more recent #HeavyAction column on Mortal Kombat. I've come to the conclusion that he is a terrible filmmaker. "No shit," I can hear you say through the computer (I am spying on you). "That is common knowledge." I know that it is, but it has become such widely accepted wisdom that I had begun to wonder if it was just something people say now without really considering his work -- he sucks because we've said he sucks so many times. I see too many movies and filmmakers dismissed without consideration for this very reason, so I always try to check in and see if those reputations are deserved or if it's just lazy criticism.
In Anderson's case, it's deserved. Don't get me wrong: he is not incompetent. He has a visual sense and understands choreography and is competently mediocre. The thing about Anderson is that he doesn't ever understand what makes the things he's "adapting" special. His films have no heart, no soul, no clue how to tap into the "why" of people's affection for these properties. He just throws things on screen he thinks will look cool to fans. Nowhere is this better represented in Alien vs. Predator than with the speed-ramping face huggers -- a garbage moment that spits in the face of Alien fans by turning one of the series' most horrifying images into a fucking Mountain Dew commercial. Anderson has no idea why the face hugger carries any power. He just takes the work that someone else has done and then makes it EXTREEEEME. He co-opts everything and filters it through his own terrible style.
In the case of AVP, I guess he didn't need to understand what's special about Alien or Predator. He was acting as Fox's boy, carrying out a project that would cash in on two of their biggest IPs at the time and weakening the legacy of both. Shame on them. And, of course, one of AvP's greatest sins is going out to theaters with a PG-13 rating despite being the crossover between two very violent, very R-rated series. Now it wouldn't just be a shitty movie, but a shitty movie with its balls cut off. The Blu-ray restores some violence in its "unrated" cut, but much of the violence takes place off screen or outside the frame. For a film that supposedly exists to give fans what they want, it has no idea what its fans want.
Jason X really comes to mind), but I always try to remain open to the possibility that I'll change my mind about something upon revisiting it. That didn't happen with Alien vs. Predator, a movie that's every bit as cynical and shitty as I remember it being. It doesn't ruin my love of the Alien series or the Predator series, but goddamn does it try.