A sequel to a dire action/horror movie – especially one based on a computer game – is normally cause to flee for the hills. Ever since the Bob Hoskins-starring Super Mario Brothers nearly killed the careers of all involved way back in 1993, computer game movies have had a truly abysmal history. Remember the Jean Claude Van Damme vehicle Street Fighter? The tedious attempt to do justice to the classic game Doom? How about the legion of wonderfully awful films from German schlock director Uwe Boll – the likes of House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark and Bloodrayne – all of which are so bad they’re, well, all but unwatchable? Let’s face it, even the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider movies have been far more rubbish than they’re worth, just to see the sultry star in a variety of skimpy outfits.
But, of course, there has always been great potential for movies based on computer games – at least during the last decade or so, when the storylines and production values of PC and console games have been challenging some films in terms of quality. For frenetic action on the big screen, what better than emulating the heart-thumping adrenaline rush of a first person shooter?
So when the first Aliens vs Predator movie came out in 2004, there was much cause for hope. After all, the game itself – first released in 1999 – was a gloriously tense piece of heart-in-throat pixelated action. Splicing together two of the best sci-fi monster film franchises of the last few decades, and chucking the player right into the heart of the dark and scary action, the game managed to get the atmosphere of the Alien and Predator movies absolutely spot on, and went on to sell millions of copies.
While the Predator film franchise died a death after the below-par Danny Glover-starring sequel in 1990, the original Arnold Schwarzenegger movie from 1987 was a gloriously over-the-top piece of action movie history. Similarly, the Alien series may have stuttered to an ignominious end with the fourth instalment, 1997’s Alien: Resurrection, but the first two in the series were among the best genre pictures ever made. Ridley Scott’s 1979 original ratcheted up the tension throughout, while James Cameron’s 1986 sequel is one of the best all-out action films of a decade packed with such movies.
If only, thought fans of both the films and the games when news of the first Aliens vs Predator film emerged, if only they can do the two series’ justice, this could be one of the most fun films in years. Original director Paul W.S. Anderson had proved his ability with 1997’s gruesomely atmospheric sci-fi flick Event Horizon, so there was room for hope – even taking into account his poor track record of computer game films Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil. Instead, we ended up with a movie that made less than no sense, which barely tied in to the original films, and that lacked the depth even of the relatively superficial plot of the game.
But the studio execs seem to have realised where they went wrong. Computer games are not just for kids any more, so computer game movies shouldn’t be given scripts that could have been written by a five-year-old, and violence levels designed to gain a low certificate and the kiddie market. This time, they promise, they’ve got it right – with violence, gore and effects to the fore. It’s still an incredibly stupid film, of course, but surely that’s the whole point of a franchise that focuses on two races of extra-terrestrial killing machines? If you like such silliness, this time they’ve thankfully very nearly got it spot on.