Well, finally we come down to it. After the glorious heights reached by the Alien franchise, we come now to the water circling the toilet bowl that is Aliens vs Predator: Requiem (also variously called AvP-R or AvP2). Of course, this is a spin-off series and not part of the ‘true’ franchise (and nobody can tell me any different), but even so, it’s a sad day indeed to see the dreck to which the once mighty monsters have been reduced.
After the original AvP had been met with indifference and disappointment, hopes were not high for a sequel. Certainly it had been a financial success, easily making its budget back, so a follow-up was more than likely. But could a sequel rescue the Aliens and Predators from the mediocrity of Paul Anderson? Initial signs were mixed. Anderson was quoted as saying he would not be returning for a sequel, which certainly drew a huge sigh of electronic relief across the web. However, the bad news was that the screenwriter quietly attached to the project was Shane Salerno.
Salerno was well known for being involved on the first AvP project as Anderson’s co-writer and script polisher (yes, the script was polished apparently), though he was uncredited on the finished version. In fact, that led to the laughable situation of original Alien writers Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett being given a scripting credit, even though neither had touched it. Given that the first AvP script was not exactly a roaring success, Salerno’s return was something of a disappointment.
On the other hand, in addition to booting out Anderson, Fox studio head Tom Rothman had publicly stated that the sequel would be aiming for an R rating, as opposed to AvP’s more timid PG-13. This opened up the possibility that the studio had actually listened to the fans and was aiming to make a film that better honoured its sci-fi horror origins.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. One is tempted to lay the blame at the door of the directors, the Brothers Strause – special effects specialists who were described as huge fans of the earlier films (as Anderson was too). How one shuddders these days when one hears of a film being directed by a first time director whose background is in SFX. Rarely do SFX crew make great directors; in fact, more often than not, their films are catastrophic failures: loud, flashy and without two brain cells to rub together.
The Brothers Strause (who almost invite mockery with their billing) clearly wanted to make a good film, but what became apparent was that the studio were determined to keep Salerno’s script and simply hired someone who could capably shoot it. And Salerno’s script was utterly dire, thereby dooming the whole enterprise. Even if the directors were talented (which is debatable, shall we say), it is unlikely anything could have been salvaged from this pile of manure.
Where to even begin? How about the setting? Small town America. What could be more exciting than seeing Aliens and Predators duking it out in shops and restaurants, right? Well, frankly, anything would have been better. Nothing can demystify and diminish the threat and horror of these creatures more than having them in an everyday setting. The Aliens clearly belong in the future, far from Earth; the Predators seem best suited to exotic and challenging locations. I don’t want to champion the first AvP, but at least it tried to keep the setting as hostile as its guests (both Alien and Predator). Seeing an Alien walk through a swing-door in to a roadside cafe kitchen is perhaps the most heart-sinking moment I have witnessed on screen since James Bond’s car turned invisible in Die Another Day. One could almost hear the nails being banged in to the series’ coffin on that occasion; so it is here.
The characters are just as depressingly mundane. It has been said before in other reviews, but it’s worth repeating: the hero of the tale is a pizza delivery boy. Who on earth thought that was going to be a good idea? The original films thrived thanks to the human characters whose strength and spirit allowed them to triumph over the creatures. This time we have to put up with an adolescent who is pining for a girl he has a crush on at school. Oh, and there’s also his older brother, who has just been released from jail. And a female soldier just back from Afghanistan (or was it Iraq? I forget), who is trying to become a mum again to her small child. It’s all just so TV-movie-of-the-week. The actors seem to do their best, but with so little to work with, performances are merely perfunctory.
One might look for consolation in the action or special effects, especially considering the directors’ backgrounds. Sadly, there’s not much doing here either. One or two moments, where the pace quickens sufficiently to reawaken your interest, is not enough. The effects are ok, but the gore factor is turned up considerably, to the point where it far exceeds anything in the original films. It feels like a desperate attempt to be trendy for the Saw generation. Gore should be used wisely, and sparingly – any good director worth his salt knows that. It should serve the story. There is a time and a place for gooey goodness, of course, but in the Alien or Predator films, it should be used in moderation, at key moments.
Even from a technical standpoint, the film fails to achieve basic competence. Most of the photography in the film is so dark it’s often hard to make out what’s going on. This is presumably to try and
obscure the film’s low budget build an atmosphere of forboding and dread. Well, it doesn’t work. Neither does the pacing. When the studio released the first five minutes of the film on to the web, the main response from fandom was: “Er, it’s going a bit fast, isn’t it?” No time is wasted at the beginning in trying to establish any sort of interest or tension; instead, it feels like a Star Trek episode trying to set up the story in the first three minutes before the theme tune and credits start.
Why the studio should treat not one but two of their crown jewel franchises in this way is beyond comprehension. Surely it has not come to the point where both series could only be used to make a quick buck? Surely they can’t be this eager to bury them?
The truth is, the studio didn’t know what to do with them and, frightened they might miss out on making some money while they dithered, the AvP series was launched to see if there was still enough interest amongst cinema goers to sustain the franchises. The trouble is, they forget to attach proper talent to the films, which resulted in mediocre products that people aren’t interested in. Which ironically, and sadly, might mean that the franchises really are now dead. Way to go, Tom.
An AvP3 apparently remains a possibility; lately there have also been rumours of the Predator series going it alone again, which to me seems the preferable option. Given the poor quality of this sequel, the next logical step is direct-to-dvd piffle. Almost unthinkable.
But what of the Aliens? For the time being, it seems they have been frozen and put in to hypersleep. But my guess is that they are too good (and too profitable) a monster to stay down for very long. Their time will come again. One way or another, they – and the bitch – will be back.