Requiem for a Nightmare

Aliens vs. Predator says it all

The first Alien vs. Predator was all about its premise. The title told you everything you needed to know—either you want to see 20th Century Fox's two name-brand sci-fi monsters brawl it out in an ancient city under the South Pole or you don't—and video-game-to-the-big-screen auteur Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil) delivered exactly what he promised. It wasn't as good as it could have been, even by King Kong vs. Godzilla standards, but there were aliens and there were Predators, and by god they beat holy hell out of each other for more than an hour.

Call it the Enter the Dragon principle: put a bunch of martial-arts experts/monsters on an island/in downtown Tokyo, set them loose with only the barest of backstories, and see what happens. (It's closely related to the John Carpenter School of Filmmaking.) It's an elegant set-up, sort of a low-rent Occam's razor alternative to Hollywood's tendency toward expository dialogue, heavy-handed sentimentality, and redemptive endings. Directors are allowed to show off not as storytellers but as choreographers. AVP, like Enter the Dragon and Assault on Precinct 13, was essentially a formal exercise, almost an abstraction. And it beat the bloated naturalism of something like Crash or Million Dollar Baby like that first Predator did to Carl Weathers.

So now we come to the sequel. Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, directed by the commercial/music video directors and special-effects barons Colin and Greg Strause, is burdened by the liturgical connotations of its title, and the first third of the new movie is weighed down by a half-hearted plot and the introduction of human characters who just don't matter. (It's not just that they're inconsequential and hackneyed—in the end, when the mushroom cloud goes up, they really don't matter.) In the first AVP the early plot, as skeletal as it was, set up the final showdown. Here it's the same old horror-movie subplots when the simple unloosing of a bunch of aliens on Colorado and a single predator's intergalactic quest for retribution would have been more than enough.

That most of the subplots are dead-ends—more than half of the principle characters, many of them sympathetic, meet bloody, oozing, ghastly deaths on the end of an alien claw or Predator pike—says something for the Strause brothers' commitment to a gruesome anti-sentimentality (a commitment followed to its grim end with the aforementioned mushroom cloud). But it also reveals just how unnecessary the initial plot and character development are. That's not to say that there aren't strong moments early—the body count stacks up from the start, with little of the typical slasher/thriller regard for who deserves it and who doesn't. But even as they're dying, the human characters don't add up to much more than distractions. The viewer feels like the Predator, trying to wade through a mass of squealing flesh-bags on his way to the real prey.

The all-hell-breaks loose velocity of the final 20 minutes, however, redeems Requiem's disjointed start. When the Predator chases the aliens into a hospital during a power outage, the movie finally gets down to fundamental, Enter the Dragon-style narrative simplicity and sleek B-movie precision. (The hospital sequence also provides the single most chilling shot of any movie in either series: a slobbering seven-foot-tall alien staring hungrily into the hospital nursery at a buffet table of human newborns.)

And for crying out loud, Requiem is also the big-screen coming-out party for the Predalien, a super bad-ass hybrid alien, complete with dreadlocks, sprouted from a Predator host. The mere presence of the Predalien—a long-running element of the AVP comic books and video game series—should be enough for a certain built-in segment of the audience. But it shouldn't take a video-game geek to understand the basic cinematic appeal of a half-alien/half-Predator monster on the loose in Colorado.