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To Catch a Predator: Why Is It So Hard to Franchise the Predator?

The Predator is one of the most iconic creations of the past thirty-odd years.

The creature created by Stan Winston for John McTiernan’s 1987 action blockbuster is instantly recognisable. It is striking and distinctive. Even people who have never sat down and watched a movie featuring the creature are familiar with the design. This is especially notable given that it could have been a disaster. The original design for the creature is something of an internet urban legend, part of the pop cultural folklore. Predator narrowly averted disaster when Stan Winston redesigned the monster from scratch, so it is all the more impressive that it became such a classic.

It is no surprise that the Predator was quickly franchised. After all, that is how the film industry works. Although modern prognosticators decry the modern era as one defined by sequels and remakes and reboots, but they have always been a feature of the landscape. So the Predator became the cornerstone of an impressive multimedia franchise; even outside of games and comic books, the creature anchored Predator 2, Alien vs. Predator, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, Predators and The Predator. That’s an impressive list, in terms of quantity and variety.

However, it is decidedly less impressive in terms of quality. Of those five sequels, Predators is the only one with a positive score on Rotten Tomatoes. Similarly, Predators is the only sequel with a vaguely positive rating on MetaCritic, scraping just over fifty percent. This is the kind of showing that audiences and critics expect from low-rent horror sequels like those starring Freddie Kreuger or Jason Voorhees. (Indeed, the latest sequel starring Michael Myers is critically outpacing The Predator.) It is not exactly an impressive track record for a reasonably big budget mainstream high-profile science-fiction franchise.

Indeed, the stock comparison for the Predator is the Alien franchise, and for good reason. The xenomorph from Alien is another iconic late twentieth-century alien design housed within an R-rated science-fiction action-horror franchise. Both properties are owned by Twentieth Century Fox, allowing them to intersect and crossover within a shared universe. Both have spawned a variety of sequels, and are loosely linked in the popular mind in the way that the Universal Studios films linked Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster with the Mummy or the Invisible Man.

However, this stock comparison does not flatter the Predator. After all, the xenomorph has been at the centre of a franchise that is consistently interesting and at best innovative. There are sequels to Alien that are rightly regarded as classics such as Aliens, while other have launched great careers such as Alien³, and some still cause fierce debates. For all the criticism of films like Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, they at least engender passion in their audiences, in a way that the sequels to Predator do not. Why is it so hard to make a good Predator sequel?

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Non-Review Review: Deadpool 2

Like the original, Deadpool 2 is being talked about as a deconstruction or comedy. It’s not really. At least, not primarily.

Deadpool 2 is most effective as a very simple and straightforward superhero narrative with a shade more violence and a dash more awareness. There are laughs in Deadpool 2. And a few truly great jokes. There are even occasionally moments where Deadpool 2 will take a montage or a couple of scenes specifically to set up a later pay-off. However, these are the exception rather than the rule. And it’s no coincidence that this set-up leads to the biggest laugh in the film.

Not basic Cable.

More to the point, Deadpool 2 never opts for a joke over an efficient plot beat. Deadpool 2 never even distorts its plot in order to cram a few more laughs into the runtime. The gags are largely there to decorate the plot, not to direct it. They’re fun, but they aren’t especially brutal or pointed. There’s never a sense that Deadpool 2 exists as a deconstruction or critique of superhero movies, that it has anything especially insightful to say about the genre beyond accepting that modern audiences are genre-literate.

To be clear, this is not an issue with Deadpool 2. In fact, what’s most remarkable about Deadpool 2, particularly in the age of superhero bloat and franchising, is the relative efficiency with which it tells a simple story. For all the jokes about genitalia and all the pop culture references that crowd the narrative, there is more genuine emotion in Deadpool 2 than there is in Avengers: Infinity War. The characters are better defined, their arcs and motivations clearer, their agency repeatedly affirmed. There is an endearing and infectious earnestness beneath the dick jokes.

Just Joshing.

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I Love the Eighties: Blockbuster Edition

I am a child of the eighties. It’s a bit of an irony that I am too young to actually recall any of the decade, but still feel more than a pang of nostalgia about it. Evidently I’m not the only one. Perhaps it’s in recognition of the turn of a new decade or the rise of a younger generation, but even a cursory glance at the big budget blockbusters coming our way this summer reveal that the times, they are a-changing. No longer is our fascination with quirky seventies sex comedies or gritty urban cop dramas of that decade: this year, we’re going back to the eighties.

The Expendables is a blast from the past...

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Non-Review Review: Bad Boys

Watching Bad Boys is a strange experience. On one hand, it’s a smooth reminder of the odd-couple cop comedies that were the style of the eighties, right down to an angry and exasperated (but ultimately trusting) chief. On the other, it has adopted all the stylistic mannerisms of the big, bold and empty action movies of the nineties. Advertised as an action comedy, it really doesn’t contain enough of either to justify a watch, and many of its stylistic ticks – driven by an inexperienced Michael Bay – have either been surpassed or become so common that they seem trite. Still, there’s a small charm to the film, most of which stems from the chemistry between the two leads and the way the movie seems to consciously revel in bromantic undertones of the genre. In that regard, it’s ahead of its time. And unlike all of its original ahead-of-it-time selling points, the bromantic angle still works. I’m just not sure that enough of the rest of the movie works to justify it. 

I wish I could say the action was explosive...

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Non-Review Review: The Rock

I think there’s a case to be made for The Rock as a pop culture masterpiece. And, no, I’m not being sarcastic or bitchy – I genuinely believe that. It’s tough to look back no in the era of huge summer blockbusters, but the movie really codified what we should expect from a modern summer tentpole. I remember the gasps of shock when the Criterion – the gold standard of DVD releases – announced that they would be including Armageddon as part of the Criterion Collection, in what was clearly meant to be a nod to the mainstream action movies. Being honest, they should have picked The Rock.

Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?

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A Man’s Mann…

I have to confess I was not overly impressed with Public Enemies. In fairness, it was mostly down to the choices Mann made in filming the work – the high definition cameras and the insistence on shakey hand held movement. You might argue that it was a choice designed to place us in the real world of the Great Depression – to put us on the streets with Dillinger and immerse us in his world rather than the sanitised grandiose version of the 1930’s that typically finds its way on to our screens. This ignores one fundamental fact about Mann’s film making: it is no less grandiose or fantastic than those myths of times past. Mann is a film maker who works best exploring the dynamics of a masculine ideal that never existed. His male characters are drawn in the mold of a classic image that never actually existed.

I'll bet Pacino ordered the Large Ham. Overdone. VERY LOUDLY!

I'll bet Pacino ordered the Large Ham. Overdone. VERY LOUDLY!

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Natural Born Predators…

I have to admit, I’m a little excited about Predators. It seems that I’m really more excited about next year’s cinematic treats – Green Lantern, Predators, Inception, even Iron Man 2 – than I am about what lies ahead for this year, well outside this month’s releases. Avatar is going to be groundbreakingly jaw dropping, but it’s not really interesting to think about it. It’s boringly amazing, if that is possible. Predators, on the other hand, is great fun to speculate about. Sure, it’s a rake of horror monsters from the past few decades being revitalised – like Freddie Kruger who has a three-picture deal and the Weinstein Company returning to its roots with a remake of An American Werewolf in London – but Predators is the only one of the remakes of more modern schlock that seems to have a chance of not sucking. I love Jackie Earle Haley, but even I can tell that a Nightmare on Elm Street reboot is a bad idea. I’m sure he could prove me wrong on that count, but I’m not expecting to him to. And I think that quirky genre-bending flicks are hard to emulate the second-time around, so I’m nervouse about remaking Landis’ low budget classic. So, Predators is the most hopeful of the bunch.

The thing's got dreadlocks... geddit? Dread... locks... no?

The thing's got dreadlocks... geddit? Dread... locks... no?

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