"The enemy of my enemy is my friend." -- Ass-kicking heroine Lex picks a side.
I really wanted Alien vs. Predator to be better than it was. The geek in me totally loved the idea of two of sci-fi action's greatest creations duking it out on the big screen. Considering the popularity of the comics, novels, and video games which first created and expanded on this idea, I wasn't alone, either. Unfortunately, Alien vs. Predator is a lot better in concept than in execution. It's not that this is a particularly bad movie. It's just so lamely done.
The biggest problem with this film is that it takes too long to get where it's going. People are not going the theater to see a movie called Alien vs. Predator because they're interested in the slow unraveling of the mystery behind a strange pyramidal structure found buried under the Antarctic icecap. We all know that it's going to turn out to have been built by the Predators, and the corporate team investigating it will get caught up in a battle between the Predators and the aliens. The plot is just an excuse to get the action started. Alien vs. Predator wastes far too much screen time getting things set up for the big titular showdown, leaving precious little time for the alien asskicking we all paid to see.
And yet the other major problem with Alien vs. Predator is, ironically, the fast-paced superficiality of the story itself. The scenes that set this whole movie up are rushed, cutting from assembling the scientists to the briefing about the pyramid to descending down to the depths to getting facehugged and chestbursted. This leaves little time for luxuries like covering over gaping plot holes (like why it apparently takes just about half an hour to go from facehugger to full-grown alien warrior in this movie, instead of the hours or days in all the previous films) or any kind of characterization whatsoever.
Since the characters are simply there to be alien chow, though, that doesn't really matter much. But it still feels like an endless interminable slog through the backstory and setup -- and yet once it's all over and the real action begins, we haven't really learned much about the Predators, the aliens, the pyramid, or anything about the human characters other than the fact that Lance Henriksen needs an inhaler and the Scottish dude with bad teeth has two sons (thus marking him for instant death). The fact that this movie is barely ninety minutes long doesn't help matters, either. There just isn't enough time to cram setup, plot exposition, fights, and characterization into such a short running time.
Fight! Fight! Fight!
Admittedly, characterization really isn't all that vital in a movie like this (despite the fact that the Alien films are known for their strong, memorable characters). But with so much of the running time taken up with just getting the big showdown set up, there's sadly precious time left over for the fights themselves.
And that's really disappointing, because the fight scenes we do get are pretty spectacular, making the film worth seeing all by themselves. Although a couple of them are way too short (of the three Predators featured in this film, two get taken out distressingly quickly, considering that they're supposed to be the galaxy's premiere hunters), and almost all of them suffer from that confusing MTV-style editing that's so frustratingly popular these days, they still do a really good job of making the alien/Predator fights as flashy and cool as the ones I pictured in my head after reading the novels and playing the games.
Modern special effects technology really helps here, ensuring that the duels we see on-screen are just as kinetic as they should be, given the quick buglike actions of the aliens and the knife-wielding martial arts moves of the Predators. And, while it did seem to come out of nowhere, plot-wise, the final showdown was just centimeters from beating the Ripley-in-powerloader/alien queen smackdown from Aliens for sheer breathtaking coolness.
There are nifty references and homages to the Alien movies, the Predator movies, and even the previous Aliens vs. Predator multimedia productions. Lance Henriksen, for instance, plays Charles Bishop Weyland, the founder of the company that would later become The Company of the first two Alien flicks, Weyland-Yutani, and the model for the Bishop synthetic in those later films. (And there's a great blink-or-you'll-miss-it moment where he idly uses a pen to rapidly tap between his splayed-out fingers, like Bishop did so famously with a knife in Aliens).
The assault weapons used by the humans, too, are obviously intended to look like earlier versions of the pulse rifle. The basic story and a few plot elements are taken from the original Aliens vs. Predator comic (and another comic reference comes in the form of a character called Mark Verheiden, named after the author of the Dark Horse Aliens comics). The climax of the film is a retread of the one from Predator 2, and some of the dialogue riffs on lines in the Predator movies, most notably Arnold's famous "You are one ugly motherf[il]ker!" Even the Aliens vs. Predator video game gets a nod in the different vision modes the Predators use to better track the aliens and the humans.
Unfortunately, all of this fanboy goodness can't overcome the essential lameness of Alien vs. Predator. The dialogue is cheesy and stilted, the characters are, without exception, total nonentities, the plot has big gaping holes, the fight scenes are too limited, and the "twist" ending couldn't have been more obvious if the Predators and aliens had stopped fighting and broken out into a song and dance routine about it. But there's just enough coolness in this movie to make me lament the wasted potential more than I want to rant about its flaws.
Alien vs. Predator isn't a bad movie, but it could have been so much more given such a cool concept. Considering how obviously hacked-up this movie was in the editing room (it's 90 minutes long and PG-13), there's still a good chance that the inevitable extended special edition director's cut DVD will fix this movie's problems. Until then, Alien vs. Predator is strictly for fans only.