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Non-Review Review: Alien vs. Predator – Requiem

To celebrate the release of Prometheus in the United States this week, we’ll be taking a look at the other movies in the Alien franchise.

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem is pretty close to indefensible. I’m not the biggest fan of the original Alien vs. Predator, but I’ll concede the film throws a few interesting ideas into a disappointingly generic and less-than-enthusiastic monster mash run-around. While the first film wasn’t original, it at least looked to acknowledge its hokeyness in places. In contrast, the sequel is just soul-destroyingly mundane, taking anything that had been unique or compelling or interesting about these two iconic movie monsters and rendering it all completely pointless as it devolves them to the equivalent of generic teenager slasher villains.

Death of a franchise…

That’s not to suggest that the first film wasn’t a shallow soulless cliché-fest, but at least it confined its clichés to more traditional monster movies. It was, in the derisive words of James Cameron, a spiritual successor to Frankenstein meets the Wolfman, but those films have a sort of a cheesy vintage prestige to them. Instead, this sequel aspires to mine the clichés of generic teenage slasher victims, rendering the Alien and Predator monsters to little more than pop culture jokes – laying them as low as Freddie Krueger or Jason Voorhees.

It is very clearly aimed at the lowest common denominator. The film even has its teenage sexbomb strip down to her underwear as a form of exploitative fanservice. Remember when these movies were sophisticated when it came to gender roles? Remember when they were progressive about the role that a woman could play in a horror film? Who cares! Let’s even frame a few shots around her ass because… well, it’s a nice ass, isn’t it? I am a genre fan – I don’t believe a movie is inherently bad just because it’s a horror film or a science fiction film. And, as somebody who has that tolerance and respect for a genre that is so often mocked and ridiculed, I can’t help but feel sorely disappointed in this.

No Joy in this…

The movie transposes the iconic creatures to what has become the standard setting for low-budget American horror. Most of the cast is young and nubile. Our plucky hero is a pizza delivery guy; his brother is a guy just out of prison. There’s all the stereotypical teenage angst thrown in, including a crush that both parties are keen to develop further, but never did. There are juvenile puerile insults thrown around. “At least now I know who ordered the sausage-lover’s,” the pizza-delivery kid insults the douchebag jock. Apparently he order that pizza with a side of homophobia.

Man, remember when the films had something clever to say about sex? I mean, if you absolutely must go that direction, there must be someway to make a movie involving Aliens and promiscuous kids into somethingjust a bit smarter than what we get here. And, in case you’re wondering, what we get here includes the mandated PG-13 skinny dipping! Because all those kids at home want girls in their underwear and copious amounts of gore, am I right?It’s movies like this that make it hard for people to confess to being horror buffs.

I am alien, hear me roar!

And the rest of the movie is just as bad. We get the obligatory soap opera subplot about a family coming to terms with a harsh reality of some description. In this case, it’s soldier coming home to her family. “It’s been so long,” the dad says, just in case we didn’t get that. She arrives home to discover that her daughter is uncomfortable around her. When the mother prepares to read a bedtime story, her daughter insists, “I want daddy to read it.”

Now, again, while this is a horror movie cliché, you’d imagine that the movie should be able to do something about this. It could serve as a nice maternal analogy, like in James Cameron’s Aliens, where Ripley struggles to balance her maternal instincts with her hardened exterior. Again, this would play into the franchise’s exploration of gender roles – and might have examined whether it is possible for a woman to be a soliderand a mother. Instead, we get some pointless angst and no character development.

You are one ugly…

The worst part about all this? It is completely pointless. The plot follows three threads, give or take. There’s the kids, the family, and the Predator. These three stories occasionally overlap, but none of them develop or depend on each other in any sort of meaningful way. They seem to exist almost independently – the human scenes fail to make us care aboutany of the characters. The paper-thin archetypes of the first crossover seem like rich, multi-layered characters in comparison.

Instead, the scenes just exist to make up an hour-and-a-half run time that feels far longer than it is. There’s no real story. There’s no real arc. Things just happen. There’s no development. There’s no resolution. The movie just sorta ends when an external force steps in, and then there’s a sequel hook that makes no sense. It’s infuriating because it’s the most fundamental part of constructing a movie, and it seems like Colin and Greg Strause completely messed it up.

I see trouble ahead…

I mean, I know they watched the original films. You can tell that they loved the original films. They clearly had a lot of affection, and have watched them countless times. However, the Strause brothers seem to have spent more time incorporating visual and especially aural references than actually studying technique. In particular, James Cameron’s Aliens is practically a “how-to” guide when it comes to producing a superior action thriller. Cameron has such a deft mastery of story-telling, it’s disappointingly clear that the production staff were more interested in borrowing the sound cues from the film than in actually using it.

I’m not the biggest fan of Paul W.S. Anderson. I’m not a person who abhors his work, but I don’t think he is a master of the form like Scott or Cameron or Fincher. However, he shows a skill at the the art of film-making that is entirely absent here. Colin and Greg Strause have no idea what to show, and what not to show – they don’t seem to understand fully the film that they are making, and what the audience might possibly want from it.

Looking for a pizza the action…

Consider, for example, the notion of killing children. It’s an act that most horror films shy away from, for obvious reasons. Kids are cute, and we don’t let them watch horror, so making them victims feels like a big “no-no.” However, you can use the death of children to render a film more powerful. It takes considerable skill and nuance, but it is possible. I think that the destruction of the colony on LV-246 in Aliens is more affecting because we know that there were kids here. (It’s explicit in the director’s cut, but Newt does mention her brother and other kids in the theatrical cut.) It’s unsettling and unnerving, it adds a layer of horror. That’s how you make it work.

Here, however, we see a chestbuster emerge from a young child. The “Predalien” attacks a maternity word, and the Strause brothers spare no discretion in showing us the inevitable result. These scenes aren’t harrowing, they aren’t unnerving. They aren’t the stuff of terror or nightmares. They are cheap and tacky exploitation, a cynical attempt to push the envelope and manipulate the audience and one that, thankfully, most viewers see right through. Given that we’re talking about a series in which the monster is designed to be the embodiment of sexual violence, it takes a lot for me to say this, but it is simply tasteless.

An alien, born and Pred…

The execution is especially banal. There’s the same tired and trite dialogue. “What the hell was that?” our intrepid pizza deliver guy gasps when he sees a facehugger scuttling about in the sewer. His brother tries to calm him, “Relax, it’s just a rat.” We run through a bunch of generic setpieces. The Predator conveniently causes a power outage. There’s a military confrontation that inevitably ends badly for the poor human soldiers.

Incidentally, I know it’s technically a plot hole in the original film, but I feel it’s appropriate to raise here as it forms the basis of the entire film: if the Predators knew about the life cycle of the Alien (presumably they do, based on the fact their vision can identify chestbursters), why didn’t they scan the dead body before taking it on board?It’s not a big thing, but it’s just one of those plot holes that gets compound when it snowballs through generic plot point after generic plot point.

Driving the franchise into the ground…

By the way, why in the name of goodness is the film called “requiem”? It means “mass for the dead”, but there’s no overt religious themes or symbolism to be found within the movie itself. The title suggests some reflection on death, but the film is never at all concerned about the carnage it dolls out. I know that movies have nonsensical titles, but I’ll freely confess that my mind may have been wandering at points during the film.

That said, it isn’t as if the film is entirely without merit – it’s just that even the more unique concepts get executed in the most banal manner possible. This movie, I believe, represents our first visit to the Predator home world on the big screen. It seems like a bit of a waste in that regard, as we get a few seconds of it. Similarly, there’s something charmingly out-of-place about the idea of Aliens attacking in a forest – it just seems so delightfully out of their element. It’s a shame that we only spend a scene and a half there before they reach the town and it becomes a generic “town under siege” film. These aren’t inherently brilliant ideas, but they are far stronger and more interesting than the stuff the film ultimately decided to focus on.

Jaw-droppingly bad…

While it’s undeniably hokey, there is something a little bit fascinating about the “clean-up” Predator, apparently nicknamed “Wolfie” on set as an allusion to Pulp Fiction. Okay, so I personally wouldn’t have framed the movie as an extraterrestrial procedural, but I’ve never been put in charge of a multi-million dollar franchise. CSI: Predator is hardly the most fascinating of concepts, but it doesn’t take a lot to stand out in this film, and there are a few small clever ideas, like using playback on a Predator’s helmet. Of course, you know you’re in trouble when you find yourself discussing the extra functions on an extraterrestrial’s headgear as one of the best parts of a film.

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem is more than just a franchise killer. It’s a double-franchise-killer. It took two separate movies returning each creature to its roots (Predators and Prometheus) to salvage the two franchises involved in this catastrophic crossover. It’s a shame, because I remain convinced there is a trashy and pulpy way to tie the two film series together that must be better than this. Sadly, we likely won’t see another attempt at it. Although I could live with it if it meant neither monster was involved in a film as abysmal as this again.

You might be interested in our reviews of the other films in the Alien series:

13 Responses

  1. There’s a reason I’ve avoided the “AvP” movies, and you’ve outlined them very well. Thanks for the heads-up on the horribleness.

  2. Perhaps the reflection on death is the reflection by the audience on the death of the franchise. In that regard, maybe the filmakers knew at least that much about what they were doing (or at least the marketing department).

    Usually I don’t particularly enjoy the hybrid Horror/sci-fi category, probably because of my nervous disposition and my aversion to some of the excesses you describe in this article. Having said that, I’ve seen both versions of Cameron’s film, and rate that slightly above Ridley Scott’s original, which I also liked.

    I’ve never seen the film you describe above, and never hope to having read your non-review. My sincere thanks.

    • Thanks David. I do think that horrors like this give the genre a bad name – reinforcing all the stereotypes people associate with cheap exploitation. If you did like the two originals, I might recommend seeking out the Assembly Cut of the third film – not the theatrical version mind you. After all that, it goes sharply downhill. I’d consider Prometheus something close to a return to form, but I think I’m in the minority on that one.

  3. Very good “non-review review”. I agree with most of it and you outlined what makes AVP Requiem a pile of dunk.

    However, I must say that unlike most people I thought AVP Requiem was better (or less bad) than the first AVP, because I find the first AVP much more of a cheese-fest, with the absolutely unrealistic “best climber in the world” (or something) and when she’s allied with the Predator and all. Requiem was a little darker and more brutal, so when it comes to bland action/horror films (which the AVP films are), I’ll tend to prefer the one which at least offers the better horror. Not to mention that the totally unexpected death of the blonde chick was pretty appreciated.

    • I like that – “better (or less bad).” I can see where you’re coming from, and it really depends on what you want from the “bland/horror films.” Each’s own.

      I’m not a fan of gore for the sake of gore (although my better half would disagree, if only because I don’t shy from gore in a good film like Cabin in the Woods), and I do have a soft spot for cheese. The best part of the original AvP, for me, was the Frankenstein inspired “awakening” of the Queen, because it seem like that was the moment that Paul W.S. Anderson “got” that he was doing a cheesy monster mash. That said, I don’t think the concept has to be cheesy or trashy. I’m sure I read a solid script at one point. But I prefer cheese to brutality.

  4. You’re not alone odaltyr, I’m in agreement with you here. As a fan of “Alien,” “Aliens,” and the original “Predator,” I had an understanding (re-enforced by years of bad sequels) that this mash-up was going to be complete trash.

    Luckily, I was also a fan of some the “AVP” comic books in my youth, predominantly for the action. My only hope for the first “AVP” was that is gave us some serious, knock-you-flat, action scenes and some cool new Alien/Predator character art designs.

    With that in mind, you’ll no don’t understand me when I say that I completely despised “AVP.” It was a picture dominated by human drama of the worst kind: flat characters being used as if they weren’t, a painfully cliched and boring main protagonist, and an early elimination of the only character I even remotely cared about – the father with the image of his young girl.

    “AVP:R” was a terrible picture as well. The difference lies in the fact that it recognized it’s two-dimensional characters and put them in a place they function better (a B-Horror/Slasher scenerio) and let them run wild.

    The art department never really picked up the slack from the first picture, and I’m assuming that’s because of budget limitations, but at least we got some serious, R-rated action out of this particular travesty. Plus, we didn’t have to stare at the ugliest, CG T-Rex evoking, turd-of-an Alien Queen design in the history of the series. That always means kudos from me.

    • I think we’ll have to respectfully disagree, Stu. But you’re right – it’s really much of muchness, and the only real decider is how you like your trash served. I actually have a great deal of respect for the early slasher genre – Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc – and I have to admit I’m quite uneasy with what it has been reduced to. I thought that taking these iconic monsters and putting them in that sort of film reduced it to the farce of a slightly-better-executed Freddie-vs-Jason.

      While I don’t love the cheese of the first film, it did feel like it was more in the mould of a chessy Universal Monster Movie. It’s just personal preference, I admit.

  5. This thing is a fucking travesty. I hate this film. It can burn in hell. If anyone prefers this to the originals I will declare them a fucking idiot. I’m sorry if I’m harsh but this is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.

  6. Some of your criticisms of this movie bring to mind my disappointment with the Gareth Edwards Godzilla film. Both seemed to promise a return to the existential, unknown horror of the originals (Aliens as invasive ‘others’; Predators as unstoppable alien ‘ghosts’; Godzilla as… well… nuclear Cthulhu), but both ended up as schlocky throwbacks to other movies: AvP as slashers, and Godzilla with the slightly goofy ‘saviour of the earth’ (or just the city…) theme of the ’60’s Toho movies. And I say this as someone fairly fond of the goofy old ’60’s Godzilla movies.

    • Thanks Warren. I agree entirely. There is an interesting story to be told with that material. Part of me is astounded that there aren’t more Lovecraft adaptations in popular culture.

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