Talking Movies [Crossover Crisis]: AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Tuesday in April in an event I call “Crossover Crisis”.

Released: 25 December 2007
Director: The Brothers Strause
20th Century Fox
Budget: $40 million
Steven Pasquale, Ian Whyte, Johnny Lewis, Reiko Aylesworth, Kristen Hager, and Tom Woodruff Jr.

The Plot:
Following the last clash between Xenomorph and Predator, a “Predalien” (Woodruff Jr.) hybrid begins a bloody rampage in a small Colorado town. While former convict Dallas Howard (Rasquale), his troublesome younger brother Ricky (Lewis), and soldier Kelly O’Brien (Aylesworth) desperately try to survive as their town is overrun with viscous alien drones, a lone Predator, “Wolf” (Whyte), is dispatched to remove all traces of the creatures from the town by any means necessary.

The Background:
Starting life in the pages of Dark Horse Comics with a three-issue short story courtesy of writer Chris Warner, the Aliens vs. Predator concept quickly expanded into multiple follow-up stories, an expansive toy line, and videogames. After a lengthy stint in Development Hell in which notable figureheads from the Alien franchise (Various, 1977 to present) openly criticised a crossover between the two horror icons, Paul W. S. Anderson won over the studio with his pitch and turned a tidy profit with AVP: Alien vs. Predator (ibid, 2004). Though the film was subjected to largely negative reviews, brothers Colin and Greg Strause were brought in to helm a follow-up, having previously unsuccessfully pitched a similar crossover and making a mark in Hollywood with their work as visual effects supervisors. Excited at the prospect on working on such a film, the two insisted that the bulk of the film’s effects were achieved practically, with CGI being used sparingly to render alien spacecraft, the more elaborate sets, and to bolster the practical effects wherever possible. Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. created the monstrous Predalien suit, which incorporated visually recognisable aspects of both species and was brought to life using an animatronic head and practical suit. Despite the brothers’ attention to detail and clear love of both franchises, and making a respectable $130.2 million worldwide gross, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem failed to impress critics: many have cited it as one of the worst films in either franchise and critics dismissed the film as a mindless, violent mess akin to a videogame that suffered from dull human characters and poor lighting. While some were impressed by the film, especially compared to the first one, plans for another movie was indefinitely suspended and fans would have to settle for the 2010 videogame as a quasi-third entry as both franchises have continued on separately on the silver screen.

The Review:
As a big fan of both the Alien and Predator franchises, and of their crossover comic books and videogames, I was left pretty disappointed with the first AVP film. While I believe that the premise of pitting these two iconic extraterrestrial monsters against each other has a lot of potential, and should be a license to print money, the execution of their long-awaited clash fell flat thanks to a by-the-numbers, toothless effort on behalf of all involved. Despite some decent practical effects and an interesting expansion of the Predator lore, the film just played things far too safe and couldn’t live up to either the standards of its predecessors or the expectations set by other meetings between the two. Unfortunately, AVP: R had a bit of a mountain to climb in that regard as many audiences went into it with low expectations after the last film and because it picks up immediately where AVP left off, meaning the entire film beyond the opening sequence is set on then-modern-day Earth. And in the suburbs, no less! While I’ll never agree with the decision to set the conflict between the two creatures on Earth in the mid-2000s rather than in the far future and on another world, at least AVP: R doesn’t shy away from the gore and immediately delivers something new by quickly accelerating the birth of Scar’s (Whyte) progeny and bringing to life a truly gruesome Alien/Predator hybrid, the Predalien.

Sadly, AVP: R falters with its human characters, who are far too generic to make an impression.

After slaughtering the Predator’s on their shuttle and causing it to crash-land in the forests of Gunnison, Colorado, the Predalien immediately sets about establishing a nest for itself in the sewers under the town, while the ship’s payload of Facehuggers gets to work impregnating the unsuspecting townsfolk…including a little boy, showing that AVP: R really isn’t pulling any punches compared to the last film. One of the things I criticised about the first film was the strength and quality of its cast; however, at least AVP had Colin Salmon and Lance Henricksen to add some gravitas to the proceedings. AVP: R is completely robbed of this benefit, giving us a cast of no-name television actors who struggle to offer any kind of dimension or intrigue to the largely expendable human characters. The film ties to focus itself around Ricky, a normal, everyday high schooler who works a shitty job, is the target of farcical jock-like bullies, and pines after the unreasonably attractive Jesse Salinger (Hager). I guess we’re supposed to like and connect with Ricky because he’s just a regular kid, but he’s basically just every semi-rebellious, resentful teenager you’ve ever seen. While he’s not very appealing by himself, I ironically didn’t mind the relationship between him and his older, far more interesting brother, Dallas. A former convict with a no-nonsense attitude who’s trying to turn his life around, Dallas might be burdened by desperate attempts to make him appealing (he’s a rugged ex-con, he shares his name with Tom Skerritt’s Alien character, he shares an awkward flirtation with Kelly, and he even gets the iconic “Get to the chopper!” line) but at least he demonstrates a brief glimmer of character through his practical, if blunt, solutions to the escalating horror. Kelly is shoehorned into the mandatory “tough female protagonist” role made synonymous with the Alien films by Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver); sadly, like Lex Woods (Sanaa Lathan) before her, Kelly struggles in this role; she’s not nearly dynamic or captivating enough to be a strong female protagonist, despite her being given a layer of vulnerability and maternal appeal in her strained relationship with her young daughter, Molly (Gade). Kelly is barely seen processing the death of her husband, Tim (Sam Trammell), before she’s flirting with ex-cons and blasting shotguns and Xenomorphs and it seems she’s primarily there in a half-hearted attempt to call-back to the far ore memorable Ripley and to have someone in the group who can pilot them to safety in the finale.

Gunnison is caught not just between the Aliens and Predator but the rampage of the monstrous hybrid.

Gunnison is naturally a central focus of the film; the Xenomorphs nest and rampage through the town and its inhabitants are picked off and impregnated by them for the first half of the film, with the town’s homeless and gung-ho hunters particularly suffering in the early going. Law and order is maintained in the town by Sheriff Eddie Morales (John Ortiz), a childhood friend of Dallas’s and former problem child himself who makes efforts to help him get his life back on track but who’s soon overwhelmed by the sudden invasion of bloodthirsty biomechanical monstrosities. Completely out of his depth, Morales calls in the National Guard (who are promptly slaughtered) and desperately radios for military aid; however, he refuses to heed Dallas and Kelly’s advice that Colonel Stevens (Robert Joy) is misleading them with the promise of an air evacuation and therefore dooms himself and his posse, who are so terrified that they’re focused only on escaping rather than using rational thought. Gunnison is also home to some disreputable characters; bullies Dale Collins (David Paetkau), Mark (Matt Ward), and Nick (Michal Suchánek) give Ricky more than his fair share of grief, with Dale beating him in the street for giving him backchat and eyeing up his girl, Jesse. Despite their differences, they’re forced to band together when they’re attack by a Xenomorph in the school pool and hunted through the school corridors, with the bullies soon paying for their misguided machismo. For all the focus AVP: R puts on the mutual attraction between Ricky and Jesse, it’s absolutely brutal when she is unceremoniously cut in half by Wolf’s shuriken-like Smart Disc; her death is so spontaneous that it’s both shocking and amusing and indicates just how much more ruthless AVP: R is compared to its predecessor. However, nowhere is this more evident when the Predalien stalks through a maternity ward at the local hospital, where it uses its proboscis to lay a bunch of Chestbursters into the bellies of the pregnant women in there! While this kind of cruelty may understandable frowned upon by some, I’m actually a big fan of shock value and AVP: R certainly delivers in that regard thanks to being unapologetically gory and violent.

Wolf comes to clean up the Alien infestation and proves to be the film’s most interesting character.

Similar to the last film, and true to the nature of the concept, the Predator takes an active role as an anti-hero throughout the film’s events, however I’d argue that Wolf is such a presence here that he’s almost portrayed as the film’s primary character. After the Predator shuttle crashes and the Facehuggers and Predalien escape into the wild, Wolf picks up the signal (giving us our first live-action glimpse of the Predator home world) and immediately sets out to contain the outbreak. An accomplished hunter and veteran, Wolf is far more capable and experienced compared to the rookies seen in the last film; carrying the acid scars on his face and missing a mandible, Wolf is portrayed as something of a “cleaner” and damage control for unwanted or unsanctioned Xenomorph infestations, but comes across more like a detective in his investigation of the crash site, which sees him arm himself with two shoulder cannons, and his meticulous destruction of all traces of either species using a corrosive blue goop. Though largely surreptitious and focused on this mission, Wolf does stray to partake in a little hunting, recreating scenes from Predator when interrupted by the Gunnison search party in the  forest (actually skinning his victims rather than just stringing them up as in the last film) and bringing undue attention to himself by causing a blackout when picking off Xenomorph’s at the town power plant. However, humans are of little interest to this Predator, meaning we’re thankfully spared any awkward and cheesy team ups between Wolf and Dallas; indeed, Wolf is largely nonplussed when the townsfolk get caught in the crossfire between him and his prey and he’s perfectly happy to blast their heads off if it means containing the outbreak. Sporting all the tried-and-true weapons and tactics associated with the alien hunter, Wolfe is given the tactical and technological edge that the humans sorely lack; he can view multiple spectrums and review recorded footage from his fallen comrades using his helmet, has all the tools and toys of his predecessors (but with two shoulder cannons), and is far more adept at dealing with Xenomorphs than any other Predator we’ve seen before.

Led by the grotesque Predalien, the Xenomorphs swarm through the sleepy, unassuming town.

As before, the Xenomorphs are portrayed as being more stereotypically and recognisably “bad” compared to Wolf, who’s firmly entrenched as a bad-ass anti-hero. Alien acid severs limbs and melts faces, and Facehuggers and scurrying to the sewers to set up a nest. The fully-grown Xenomorphs seem largely unfazed at their urban settings, easily skulking through town in the dead of night to pick off victims and being framed in a suffocating, near constant darkness that really helps to add to their terror (when you can actually see them, that is). In a nice change of pace, AVP: R doesn’t rely on the cliché of a Xenomorph Queen and instead has the creatures directed by a far more mobile and altogether more versatile and horrifying alpha, the Predalien. A hulking, drooling nightmarish mish-mash of Alien and Predator biology, the Predalien is framed very much like the original Xenomorph drone (Bolaji Badejo) and a figure of disgusting, uncomfortable sexually-charged horror rather than some disposable, squealing drone. Although I often think of the Predalien as being a masculine counterpart to the Alien Queen, it’s actually an asexual creature, able to impregnate multiple Chestbursters directly into a host using its proboscis. Not only does the Predalien sport the mandibles and dreadlocks of a Predator but it also rips the spines out of its prey much like the alien hunter; seen as an abomination by Wolf, the two have a deep-rooted instinctual hatred of one another and their inevitable conflict is so brutal that it would be a fight to the death even without the impending threat of nuclear destruction.

The Nitty-Gritty:
AVP: R tends to get a bad name primarily because of its poor lighting; when I went to see it in the cinema, I don’t remember it being that dark or difficult to make out what’s happening but it’s hard to deny that sections of the film are all-but impossible to see since they’re bathed in a pitch-black darkness. On the one hand, I don’t actually mind this; it recalls the dark atmospheric horror of the first Alien film and returns these creatures to their roots as frightening monsters rather than lessening their threat through over exposure, however I think the Brothers Strause went a little too far into the dark, perhaps in an attempt to keep the film from upsetting the censors by adding unnecessary monster horror to its gore, swearing, and violence. Fiddling with your TV settings and the lighting in your home can improve things, for sure, but it’s a shame that so much of the film, suits, and brutality is lost to this impenetrable blackness. Unlike the last film, AVP: R is unapologetically R-rated; characters swear throughout the film and blood and gore are far more prevalent, bringing the film more in line with the standards set by previous entries in the series. As alluded to, this also can be taken as a detriment as the Brothers Strause go super dark by having Chestbursters burst out of children and pregnant women, but these films have always had some uncomfortable gory scenes and I’m certainly not going to complain about this considering how toothless the first AVP film was. I also have to commend the Brothers Strause for their clear affection for the source material; this is evident right from the start, where the film’s credits are a mixture of both franchise’s fonts and the ambient sound is a mash-up of the classic motion tracker beeping and the Predator’s thermal vision, and the amalgamation of the franchises continues to be felt throughout the film in Brian Tyler’s score.

The increased focus on gore and recreating both franchise’s atmospheres is very much appreciated.

As ever, the main appeal of the film are the practical effects used to bring both species to life; again, this is why the low lighting is such a drawback as the Aliens finally include their most memorable design (the rigged skull variant from the second film) and we never really get a decent look at the Predalien thanks to the all-encompassing darkness and wash of rain throughout the movie. Still, the suits, puppets, and animatronics are as good as they’ve ever been and sometimes benefit from the darkness; Wolf sticks very closely to the classic Predator look defined in the first two films, though with a more visually interesting helmet and sporting the battle scars of his many hunts. The cloaking effect is much improved this time around, as are the CGI blasts used to represent his shoulder cannon projectiles, both of which harken back to the first two films and Wolf even uses the trajectory tracking system seen in the first Predator. Best of all, his face more resembles the classic Stan Winston design rather than the butt-ugly travesty we saw in AVP, and we get an all-too-brief glimpse of the Predator home world, a searing hot planet of ancient pyramids and structures that just cries out to be revisited in more detail some time, and the additional toys Wolf gets to play with. Wolf has the spear and the gauntlets but also has little mapping devices that double as laser traps he to cover his back and cut down any Xenomorphs, he can charge up his gauntlet to burst through solid concrete, has a slick razor-sharp whip, and he’s also easily powerful and adept enough to hold multiple Xenomorphs off at once. The Aliens not only have their signature squeal, but we also get to see them feeding on human brains; they’re also slimier and more grotesque than ever, though none more so than the Predalien. This thing is absolutely abhorrent to look at, drooling and stomping about with a real weight. In many ways, it reminds me of the Newborn (Tom Woodruff Jr./Joan La Barbara/Archie Hahn) in that it’s an even more monstrous variant of one of cinema’s classic creatures, though the Predalien enforces its will far more aggressively than the Queen, striking Xenomorphs when they try to eat or act before it and slashing at its victims with its huge claw-like hands and prehensile tail.

Sadly, the brawl is interrupted by a nuke that kills the town and puts an end to the alien threat.

Many of the human survivors are whittled down in their efforts to arm themselves thanks to Wolf using them as bait and picking them off simply for being armed; the National Guard and absolutely massacred by the Xenomorphs as well, and the remaining survivors split up after disagreeing about Colonel Steven’s evacuation plan. Colonel Stevens directs the survivors to the centre of town on the pretence of an evacuation but it’s actually to ensure that the Aliens all congregate on ground zero of his tactical nuclear strike, which obliterates the entire town and all traces of the alien infestation save for Wolf’s shoulder blaster. Before the town is destroyed, however, Dallas, Kelly, Molly, and a wounded Ricky fight their way to the roof of the town hospital (which has been partially converted into a horrific Alien nest) to get to the helicopter and escape the incoming blast in tense scenes awash in darkness and flickering lights that recall Ripley’s desperate last-minute escapes as much as Kelly’s drive through the wrecked streets calls back to Ripley’s rescue of the Colonial Marines in their armoured transports. Barely able to fend off the skulking Xenomorphs with their weapons, Dallas covers their escape by wielding Wolf’s repurposed shoulder cannon, but ultimately it comes down to a one-on-one, hand-to-hand slugfest between Wolf and the Predalien. This takes place on the rooftop of the hospital, in the dead of night, and amidst a torrential downpour with their destruction an inarguable guarantee since we know Stevens has a missile inbound. And yet, as in the last film, actually seeing the Predator go at it with the Aliens and that horrific hybrid are the highlight of the film despite the low lighting; overpowered by the Predalien and ready to fight to the death, Wolf discards his weapons and battles his rival in a test of strength that sees him rip out its inner mouth, stab it through the head, and be left impaling on its spear-like tail. Unfortunately, Wolf is incinerated along with his foe and the entire town by Stevens’ missile; although our human protagonists escape, the shockwave causes their helicopter to crash and they’re apprehended by military police shortly afterwards. In the aftermath, Colonel Stevens recovers Wolf’s damage cannon from Dallas and presents it to Ms. Yutani (Françoise Yip) of the Yutani Corporation, awkwardly implying that they were somehow able to reverse-engineer enough technology from this one weapon to eventually become a universe-spanning colonising force alongside the Weyland Industries some two-hundred years in the future.

The Summary:
I’m a firm believer that AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem isn’t as bad as people make it out to be, but also that it still has plenty of undeniable flaws that keep it from being classified as under-rated and which also make me hesitate to rate it much higher. I’ve always enjoyed that the film veers back to the horror atmosphere that popularised each franchise; the swearing, blood, gore, and shocking violence all make quite an impact and make this film the extreme other end of the spectrum compared to the first AVP movie. I also enjoy Wolf’s character and presence throughout the film; in many ways, I almost wish that we’d followed him more as he’s far more interesting a character than any of the disposable humans, but I would be surprised if we ever saw something like that in a live-action movie. I also really enjoyed the Prealien; as much as I love the Xenomorph Queen, she’s very played out and it’s nice when the franchise uses a similar concept but in a different, uniquely grotesque way and the Predalien is such a striking character design and vicious concept that it really helps to up the ante in a more visceral way. In these regards, AVP: R is worlds better than its predecessor; the tone, presentation, and atmosphere are far more in line with what I expect from each franchise and I would choose to watch this one out of the two on any day of the week…but sadly it’s still a mess of a movie. The film’s just way too dark, there’s no denying it; some scenes are just a blank screen of darkness with the vaguest hint of movement and the sounds of gnashing, slobbering teeth, and the impressive practical effects are almost entirely lost in this death shroud. Furthermore, the characters and setting are just awful; an urban environment might be something different from the franchise but a present-day setting just doesn’t work for this concept and the lack of any strong, recognisable faces and human protagonists means it’s almost impossible to give a damn when they’re in danger or die. Overall, this was a step in the right direction in many ways but the execution again fell short of the mark; it’s a shame that we probably won’t see a proper Aliens versus Predator film set in space and in the future and that we’re left with these two largely disappointing live-action adaptations as the premise has so much potential but the studio clearly didn’t have faith to put the money and effort behind it so we’re left with these sub-par efforts that really could’ve, and should’ve, been much better.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem? How do you think it compares to the first film and other films in each franchise? Were you disappointed that it continued the modern-day setting? Did the poor lighting and shock value of the gore and horror bother you? Which of the humans was your favourite? What did you think to Wolf and his mission to erase all traces of the Aliens? Were you a fan of the Prealien or do you find it to be a little too unrealistic? Which of the Aliens vs. Predator stories or adaptations was your favourite? Would you like to see the two cross paths again in some form or another? Whatever you think about Alien vs. Predator, leave a comment down below or share your thoughts on my social media.

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