By Alan Scherstuhl
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Fans, comic-book creators and video-game designers have been imagining wars between the two for years, ever since 1990's Predator 2 ended by showing off a Predator spaceship's trophy room complete with Alien skull. Now, after an even longer wait than Freddy and Jason fans had to endure, Alien vs. Predator has finally hit the big screen. But is it any good, or just a cheap moneymaking gimmick? The fact that even the Los Angeles Times didn't get an advance screening certainly didn't bode well.
The most important thing to know about AVP is that it's a Paul W.S. Anderson movie. Anderson's name tends to polarize the geek fan-boy crowd tremendously, in large part thanks to Harry Knowles, who seems to be nursing some sort of grudge over Anderson's not inviting him onto the set of Soldier or something. Much of the criticism tends to be because of budgetary issues that Anderson has no control over: Given his druthers, do you really think he would have wanted only one CG monster in Resident Evil? Fans familiar with the Alien and Predator comics from Dark Horse likely will berate Anderson again for the fact that the new movie is nowhere near as epic in scope, but we can't have everything -- part of the reason AVP finally got made is that Anderson pitched a story set in the budget-friendly setting and location of present-day Earth, rather than across galaxies to multiple futuristic planets. There is, however, one glorious image of swarms of Aliens attacking a small group of Predators on a pyramid that suggests what might happen next time if this movie makes the big bucks.
Fans of Anderson's oeuvre will notice many of the British director's favorite narrative devices. Like Mortal Kombat, the story begins with a ragtag bunch of misfits being assembled from around the world for a mysterious boat voyage, during which a wrinkle-faced character actor familiar to genre fans (Lance Henriksen in this case) sends them on a mission involving unknown dangers. As in Resident Evil, they must infiltrate a massive sealed underground structure full of death traps, which, this time around, also happens to be an ancient temple full of monsters and skilled otherworldly warriors (Mortal Kombat again).
Henriksen plays Charles Bishop Weyland, whose name will be familiar to fans of the Aliens films as the co-founder of the evil, faceless Company responsible for most of the trouble in movies 1 through 3. AVP reveals him to be the human inspiration for the Bishop android in Aliens, also played by Henriksen. The connection trips up a little, however, when it comes to Alien3, in which Henriksen portrayed an additional character who claimed he was the human inspiration for Bishop, and who in the extended DVD cut bleeds red, thus making clear he can't be an android, as they only bleed white. Continuity obsessives may decide that the character in Alien3 is either a clone or a direct descendant who somehow resembles his ancestor exactly, but more likely they'll just hurl insults at Anderson on some Web forum or another for needlessly complicating things. Regardless, it's always good to see Henriksen adding his own unique gravitas to a sci-fi flick -- he could recite the lyrics to the Oompa-Loompa song and it would be the most foreboding thing you've ever heard in your life.
In order to maximize the audience demographics, our heroine is an ass-kicking intellectual black woman (Sanaa Lathan) who's not above flaunting a little cleavage even at the Antarctic, and our rating is PG-13, a first for Alien and Predator movies. This cuts down on the human gore factor, but thankfully the MPAA cares naught for the young'uns seeing space critters getting repeatedly disemboweled. The other characters are mostly expendable: Ewen Bremner doing his rote Scottish Doofus routine, Colin Salmon as Intimidating Black Dude. Hell, the monsters have more personality than the humans this time, from the self-mutilating Scar Predator (Ian Whyte, in a slightly subpar mask) to the mesh-marked Grid Alien (Tom Woodruff Jr.).
And the rest of the plot? Hmm, do you really care? Are you the sort of person who watches WWE Smackdown for the intricate story lines? You know what to expect. There are a few more nits for fans to pick, but overall, you get what you pay for.
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