I think people have treated these “vs.” movies as if their potential for awesomeness was in the neighbourhood of the awesomeness-potential of their parents, perhaps even added together; and I think we all know now (except in the most stalwart corners of our fanboy hearts) that it just isn't true. I bet I could come up with a fairly convincing though totally made-up mathematical formula to describe the maximum possible awesomeness of such a project, based upon the demonstrated and potential awesomenesses of their parents. But I'm not going t-
Oh, what the hell, here goes. Where VAP refers to the “Vs. movie Awesomeness Potential”, P1AP and P2AP (and so on) refer to the Awesomeness Potential of their parents, and P1AD and P2AD (and so on) refer to the Demonstrated Awesomeness of their parents, and N refers to the number of parent franchises :
VAP = ([P1AP + P2AP...] + [P1AD + P2AD...]) / N-squared
In other words, thank fuck there wasn't a Freddy vs. Jason vs. Pinhead vs. Ash.
Okay, look, I'm not gonna tell you this is a great movie. I don't even feel right saying it's a good movie. It doesn't stack up to any of the Alien solo movies, or the first Predator, and is unlikely to get the kind of sentimental fondness Predator 2 got (the kind where I know it's crap anyway). But while it pains my heart a little say this, my head knows that this is probably about as good as an Aliens vs. Predator movie is gonna get. Its VAD is about as close to its VAP as we can hope for.
The first AVP was lousy pretty well across the board; stupid setup (modern earth, what?), stupid location (Antarctica, but...underground where nothing looks like Antarctica, and in a self-transforming giant temple no less), stupid PG-13, stupid mythology where the Predators were Aztec gods, stupid pro wrestling moves from the Predators. I can't remember an upside to that movie. Wait, I remember the Predator nailing the Alien queen in the head with a spear. That was pretty badass. Two seconds of upside.
In some regards, AVP:R is an overcorrection. The setting is anything but fantastical, and at least this time it's easy to accept as long as you swallow its first few minutes' conceit that the Predator-Alien hybrid (which the movie wastes no time in showing in its full form) somehow manages to crash its ship near a small Colorado town, and there's a regular Predator in pursuit of it. It doesn't keep hitting you with new bits of “Oh come on, I don't believe that this movie is set in this time and place” that the first one did. It's also a hell of a lot more gruesome, sometimes hilariously so (lots of guys lose large portions of their heads), sometimes...ugh, horrible.
I don't remember any human character in AVP having even a single dimension, but the lead characters here mostly have exactly one at most. Some of them even have to share. We've got directionless slacker who could only be made less miserable by the arrival bloodthirsty aliens, we've a prodigal son returns type guy, we've got a military mom who just got home from The Shit...you can see there's some overlap here. There's a hot blonde who really likes the slacker for undisclosed reasons, a sheriff that the townspeople talk to as if he were some sort of dirty foreigner for undisclosed reasons (other than that he appears to be slightly brown), a group of bullies – bullies! For real! Will they get raped in the face by horrible monsters? A script with some personality to it and a cast with some seasoned character actors could've gone a long way in this movie, but couldn't we say that about anything? This script is so lazy it brings in a couple of potheads and doesn't even try wringing any humour out of their presence. In fact, this whole movie is noticeably humourless, and not to its credit. It's easy to respect a stark horror movie that chooses to go this route, but this is a “vs.” movie – it should be fun above anything.
At least this movie treats is titular creatures with a little respect (and surprisingly little CGI). The Predator is followed through his entire presence in the movie without some human audience surrogate accompanying it (and saying things like “Oh, I see...you're tracking it!”) as it wordlessly goes on its investigation and hunt. The Aliens look great and after five movies of metal corridors it's refreshing and a little unsettling to see them wreak mayhem in such mundane, homey surroundings. And the Predator-Alien hybrid is a piece of work; it's a good gross monster, and after the stasis in AVP, the Aliens here return to being a little more bizarre with each movie. This one doesn't even bother with the eggs; it impregnates you, several chestbursters at a time, by puking them down your throat.
That leads into how this movie contains possibly the most horrible image I've ever seen in a dramatic movie. Audition? Irreversible? Inside? Whatever taboo-breaking Europanese thing is hip right now? None of that shit is as world-stoppingly awful as seeing what happens here in a maternity ward. That it was probably intended as just another eew, gross moment in a movie that has a few eew, gross moments only makes it worse. And goddammit, any horror movie that shows me something that awful has got to be doing something right.
We do get a short look, very early on, at what I assume is the Predator homeworld, and it inspires in me the kinds of questions I always ask whenever I see the the Klingon homeworld, or the homeworld of any fictitious alien civilization which has exactly three words and a hyphen to define them (“Honour-bound warriors!” “Trophy-seeking hunters!”): where are the Predator architects? The Predator construction workers, the Predator mechanics and refinery workers and artists and plumbers and pavers? I'm sure they have these things, because they HAVE TO, but it's to this series' detriment that the Predators are shown in such a singular, brain-dead light that I can't even imagine these things without giggling.
Back here on earth, the small-town setting gives this movie a tasty little something that its predecessors lack: it's the only Aliens movie where its human characters aren't generally aware that being killed, impregnated, or torn apart by an Alien is a near-future possibility. This movie has a lot of people whose last thoughts are some variant of WHAT THE FUCK.