Predator Week: ‘Alien vs. Predator’ (2004)

Alien vs. Predator sounded like one of the greatest crossover events in sci-fi horror history. Take two of the baddest alien races, toss them together into a confined space, throw some hapless humans into the mix, and see what happens. It was high-concept, it smelled like money, and it was money. AvP brought in over $172M worldwide against a $60M production budget. And while there is a lot to love in this movie, AvP had an inherent fatal flaw that it could not overcome.

Besides the promise of a great war between the titular characters, it’s the setting that makes AvP intriguing. Underneath the ice in Antarctica, researchers from Weyland Industries have detected a strange heat bloom. The culprit is not global warming this time, for the signature is coming from a buried pyramid that incorporates architectural elements of three different cultures, including the Aztecs. A group of ice drillers and scientists is quickly assembled to investigate. Yeah, it’s Armageddon without Affleck and Liv Tyler to muck things up, but the team building scenes are good, instilling a lot of backstory in a short amount of time.

The acidic blood hits the fan as soon as they enter the mysterious structure. Eons ago, Predators imprisoned a Queen Alien inside the pyramid, frozen in the frigid temperatures. This is all part of a Yautja training exercise in which the Predators come to Earth, defrost the ovipositing Xenomorph, and wait for their eggs to hatch in order to hunt the creatures down. To make matters more difficult, the interior structure of the pyramid shifts every ten minutes. Walls move, rooms close off, corridors open and shut. It’s like the staircases at Hogwart’s on a much grander level.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson (Event Horizon) does a good job at establishing how ancient the two alien societies are. Carvings inside the pyramid relate the history of their ferocious battles. The Predators have used humans as manual labor and as the incubators for their alien targets. Humanity is nothing to them.

AvP also ties itself in with both of its parent franchises well. Lance Henrikson shows up as Michael Bishop Weyland himself, and his middle name alone provides a solid link to the Alien universe. When the Predators arrive on the scene, with their cloaking devices and sharp implements, it plants the movie on solid ground. Of course, they would be hunting Xenomorphs. They’re Predators. They could ostensibly show up anywhere. There’s nothing that feels incongruent about their meeting.

There’s a lot of goop flying around in this movie; a good portion of the budget must have been spent on KY jelly. Deciding which members of the investigative team are expendable is part of the fun. While it’s easy to pick out the Final Girl, a couple of characters are unexpectedly offed. The creatures are responsible for a majority of those deaths, but the shapeshifting pyramid adds a whole new element of danger to the proceedings.

The problem with AvP is that it cannot be everything that fans of either of the franchises wants. The attention of the script is divided. Between the swarm of Xenomorphs and the gaggle of Yautja, it’s like trying to wrangle two groups of angry kittens. And since the Predators establish a sense of dominance early on, the following action is nothing more than watching bugs get stepped on. The PG-13 rating also hampers the goings-on. Sure, the Yautja still hang some of their victims upside down by their ankles, but the corpses are still wearing their parkas. Remember when they used to skin them? I remember. That was disgusting. And awesome.

Even though the film is knock-kneed with restraint, Alien vs. Predator is still a lot of fun to watch. The action scenes are well-paced and violent enough. The script plays it safe, and five seconds of thought will help you predict the ending. But there’s enough gravitas, and the essential building blocks are here. AvP can’t stand on its own within either of the establishing universes it hails from, but it is at least a rewarding sidequest.

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