“Rated PG-13 for violence, language, horror images, slime and gore.”
AVP: Alien vs. Predator proved an embarrassment to all parties involved. That sweeping net might as well include young film critics, as yours truly was in the earliest months on his continuing and un-asked-for tenure as a Writer About Film. As is so often with case with “early work”, this review is embarrassing. Written for a site that no longer exists, I present it here in the interest of some sort of career transparency (again, a most un-asked-for thing) and because Shane Black’s The Predator is opening. I’ll also dig out my 2010 opening night review of the previous Predator sequel, Predators. As for AVP, it remains worse than any of the afore-mentioned titles. I recall it screening for critics at 10PM the Thursday night before it opened. I was so determined to be one of the only reviews of the film available its opening morning that I stayed up all night to write this. I’m still tired when I think about it.
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY PAUL W.S. ANDERSON/2004
Well before AVP: Alien vs. Predator ever opened, or even screened, its word of mouth was pretty bad. It was looking like this summer’s big blockbuster movie lineup would be bookended with hollow, vapid, expensive studio efforts to mine their catalog of previously successful horror franchises, so desperately in search of a hit that they forgot to include any hint of what made the originals so popular. Starting with the dreadful Van Helsing back in early May, and culminating here, horror fans have been braced for this final slap in the face for quite a while. So is AVPas bad as we’ve feared? Well, let’s just say, if I were Paul Anderson right now, I’d be pretty worried. This movie manages to be worse than The Day After Tomorrow, The Chronicles of Riddick and even Fahrenheit 9/11(gulp!). It doesn’t quite reach the dark depths of Van Helsing crappiness, but it’s not far from it.
What should’ve been a brutal, scary, knock-down, drag-out space-faring duel to the death is instead a PG-13 rated (!!!), nearly-bloodless earthbound bore. Like Van Helsing, AVP offers expensive and detailed sets (in this case half-baked Giger-inspired environments which are too murky and darkly lit for their own good) and a wealth of CGI and special effects, but yet manages to capture none of the atmosphere and dread that made the best entries in the respective franchises so great. (I’m referring to Ridley Scott’s Alien, James Cameron’s Aliens, and John McTiernan’s Predator.) From a marketing perspective, it’s obvious that Fox is hoping to recapture the success of the similarly conceived Freddy vs. Jason that New Line enjoyed a year ago. Too bad AVP didn’t follow that film’s example is terms of storytelling and how to deliver a crowd-pleasing crossover. FVJ got things started right away with a clear plot and plenty of Freddy & Jason up front. AVP goes on and on and ON with a lame archaeological plot featuring a slew of human characters we don’t care about for an HOUR before the rarely seen Predators and Aliens (well, one of each, really) end up in the same room, and even then, the skirmish is quick and weak.
Someone’s got to stop Paul Anderson from making these films in which a team of burly butt-kickers travel into a strange underground lair, and end up getting systematically picked off. The resemblance to his previous film, the not-so-bad-by-comparison Resident Evil, is more frightening than anything in either movie. AVP even shares that film’s obsession with holographic maps, which are supposed to not only look cool, but serve as transitional devices and geographical markers for the viewers. (No such luck on any of the above.) Whether he set out to make a seemingly neutered PG-13 film or was forced into it by Fox almost doesn’t matter – all the gory action in the world couldn’t safe this snoozefest. (And, how funny is it to note that “slime” helped constitute the PG-13 rating? Maybe Nickelodeon isn’t as kid friendly as we’d always thought??)
The afore-mentioned team of burly butt-kickers, assembled by the dying industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen, foreshadowing an android role he played eighteen years ago, and bringing more humanity to the proceedings than any of the other cast members) includes all the usual suspects for a by-the-numbers film like this: The No-Nonsense Expert Team Leader (Sanaa Lathan), The Nice Guy Who Talks About His Kids (Ewen Bremner), and the most unintentionally funny one, The Guy Who Can Somehow Inexplicably Read Ancient Predator Runes (Raoul Bova). Their ill-fated expedition is put into motion when a really old pyramid is discovered far beneath the surface of the earth. After taking forever to get down there, they discover the pyramid’s nefarious origin, which was ripped off from Stargate of all things, and then get separated and chased and killed once booby traps are sprung, and Aliens and Predators turn up looking for trouble. Through it all, it’s almost impossible to keep track of who’s where, especially with the mechanically shifting geography of the chambers. So why the heck are the Aliens so upset with the Predators, and why are they here on present day Earth despite the fact that the sequels which take place in the far future hinge on the creatures never getting here? I’d tell you, but I’m sure that despite my words of warning, you’ll be seeing this anyway.
What more can be said of a film this highly anticipated and so long in development (since 1992) that when it finally arrives, ends up drawing far more unintentional laughs than thrills? Shame on you, 20thCentury Fox and Paul Anderson, for monkeying around with such beloved franchises in such a reckless manner. Perhaps it is possible to pair these two personality-free monster species against each other in a compelling story (I’ve never read the many Alien vs. Predator Dark Horse comics or played any of the popular video games which followed), but this sure isn’t it. It’s always iffy placing all the audience empathy upon third-party human characters when it’s the title match-up that got us there in the first place. FVJ got away with it (helped by the fact that Englund’s Freddy Krueger is a character overflowing with personality), but this movie most definitely does not. With what little Alien vs. Predator action we do get, we’re left not with any post-battle adrenaline, but instead pesky questions, like why is the Predator able to cut off an Alien’s head without the acid blood destroying his blade? This film has far too many such questions packed into its shockingly short running time of just over an hour and a half. (By shockingly short, I refer not only to the fact that’s brief by all previous Alien and Predator standards, but also because it felt longer than all of them combined.)
Although both properties have lost some of their original luster thanks to shoddy sequels, this single film will ultimately do more damage to them in one fell swoop than any solo entry could. One wonders now if it will ever again be possible to separate the two back into their own films, barring any future remakes or “re-imaginings”. This is what Fox gets for placing these valuable and adored franchises completely into the hands of a guy who makes video game movies. This seriously makes me wish Anderson would’ve stuck to making the Resident Evil sequel; at least that original film worked in the context of its video game roots. Instead we get this mangled, mishandled mess of geek-cinema sacrilege. This falls far short of last year’s terror tussle of Freddy vs. Jason. If you want gory scares in a Paul Anderson film (or holographic maps and deep-underground locales, for that matter,) stick with Resident Evil. AVP fails on all other fronts as well: The Day After Tomorrow has better special effects, Stargate has better alien/pyramid mythology, and Fahrenheit 9/11 has scarier stars. I know that I can’t stop you from going, but believe me when I say that Alien Vs. Predator is one of the worst movies you’ll ever willingly go into despite having known for months ahead of time just how awful it is.