The time is now, the place planet Earth, and businessman Charles Bishop Weyland has recruited a team of archaeologists, geologists and explorers to assist him in his investigation into a recently discovered pyramid encased for millennia in the depths of icy Antarctica. After a not uneventful arrival the team find themselves trapped in this ancient and mysterious structure. But things get worse as they realise that they are unwitting prey, caught between two warring species. In the red corner the Alien and in the blue corner the Predator.
Movies in which characters from different films went head to head were a short-lived subgenre in days gone by. Back in 1943 Universal brought together Frankenstein and the Wolfman, then with the arrival of Godzilla came a slew of mad monster battles. Recently the Friday the 13th franchise came to bloody blows with The Nightmare on Elm Street series in Freddy vs. Jason, and now another long awaited grudge match between two genre heavyweights arrives on the silver screen in the self explanatory Alien vs. Predator. It has been 14 years since the idea was first hinted at, when in 1990 an all too familiar alien skull was glimpsed amongst the trophies of the camouflaged hunter from another world in the underrated sequel to the 1987 smash Predator. So does the resultant movie live up to expectations?
Pitting two familiar and well-loved movie monsters against each other should have resulted in a crowd-pleasing action movie with bone crunching battles and gory visuals that hits the ground running. Instead writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson has decided to give the audience a lengthy build up. An unnecessary attempt to ape the tense suspenseful atmosphere of Ridley Scott's classic movie that began it all. Unfortunately he isn't skilled enough to handle this sort of thing and as such the opening act of the film is rather laboured. A few characters are introduced and the mission explained but it's a long 30 minutes before the first close encounter between human and extraterrestrial (with obvious results). Not long maybe? But the film only has a running time of a mere hour and a half. Also this first act doesn't really give the audience much in the way of information, when the body count rises we are none the wiser as to who the people are that have been slaughtered. There are some interesting scenes in which we see the Predators preparing for the hunt intercut with the human team getting ever closer to what will, for many, become their final resting place, but this whole section could have been tightened up with snappier editing to give us the required information in half the time. The actors don't really help, nor does the limited material on offer.
Sanaa Lathan as Alexa 'Lex' Woods has the most screen time and does a passable job; she is basically a clone of the Ripley character, except this time we know she'll be kicking arse in the final reel. The intended chemistry between her and Italian archaeologist Sebastian de Rosa (Raoul Bova) is non-existent. Then again, the sole purpose of his character is to answer any questions and give lengthy lines of exposition. A sign of lazy scriptwriting. On the plus side Ewen Bremner shows that with the right actor a characters personality can be conveyed to the audience in a matter of minutes. Lance Henriksen is ok, there are attempts to establish character development with scenes between him and Lex, but they don't really work and go nowhere. When all is said and done Alien vs. Predator isn't really about character, or it shouldn't be, fans pay their money to see the two creatures duke it out. This is where the film gets better.
For the most part the action set pieces and the depiction of both the Alien and the Predator are well handled. The introduction of the Alien Queen is a crowd pleasing moment, chained and bound emerging from her icy slumber to lay the eggs that will cause so much havoc. The first time that Alien and Predator go one on one is a definite highlight, pretty much delivering what the whole film should have done. Indeed this fight leads on to an exciting, well-paced section of the film, which includes an entertaining flashback to an earlier interspecies conflict that utilizes the old cliché of 'pyramid builders from outer space'. There are other highlights, but to discuss them would spoil the surprise such as the finale which may come across as a little ridiculous to those not willing to embrace the films comic book sensibilities, but gives plenty of bang for your buck. The problem with the action however, is twofold. Firstly the location chosen for the movie is far too familiar, all dimly lit corridors and chambers. As a consequence the action sequences are hard to make out at times. On top of this there appears to have been a bit of pruning done to the more gory moments in order to get a lower rating so as to increase box office revenue with a wider, younger audience. As a consequence practically all the deaths happen off screen. This, alongside the general darkness of the locales adds a frustrating element to the action. Having said that the FX are very good, a well thought out mix of traditional animatronics, make up and CGI. The Aliens look perfect, sleek and stealthy, they move with the grace that Geiger's designs imply. The Predators are a contrast, big and bulky, weighty beasts with suitably heavy-duty firepower. A minor niggle is that their design has changed, their features simplified and made slightly less suggestive. In other words Danny Glovers "OK pussyface" line would not apply here.
In terms of continuity there are also a few problems which will probably upset the hardcore fan. Setting the film on Earth in the present day may not have been the best idea; it doesn't really need to be as the location is isolated enough and it only throws up questions as to why the Alien has not been discovered before the first film. The creature's life cycle has been sped up, but this is good thing, getting the details out of the way so the film can move onto the important stuff. But the casting of the always watchable Lance Henriksen is misjudged. As mentioned he plays Charles Weyland, an ancestor of the scientist that created the robot Bishop. But there is no real purpose to his inclusion in the story other than as a wink to the fans. There are no insights regarding his character or reference to his robotics research and it seems like a pointless addition, only serving as a constant reminder to audiences of the previous movies. These minor gripes aside it may have been better if Anderson had decided to eschew continuity altogether and concentrate on giving the audience an all out action film that just works within its own parameters.
With its lengthy first act and rushed finale Alien vs. Predator leaves the viewer with a feeling of missed opportunity rather than having experienced an awful film. The movie is very derivative, not surprising really when it’s a merging of two established franchises but it is also reminiscent of many other better films such as The Thing. Also, do we really want to see another movie in which people run hither and thither through dark tunnels pursed by creatures from beyond the stars? The blame must lie with Anderson. As a filmmaker he has come under quite a bit of flak by reviewers, a lot of it deserved, movies like Resident Evil and Soldier show that he is more a straight to video director. He is not quite up to the job in either the scriptwriting or directing department and despite the occasional well crafted moment the film suffers as a result. In all honesty though this movie is his best work and there is a fair bit of entertainment to be had here in a B movie kind of way. The encounters between Alien and Predator are pretty fun and with the rather predictable final beat of the movie hinting at what the human race will be up against in the inevitable sequel, maybe Alien vs. Predator II could deliver in the areas in which this film has failed.