There's a touching scene near the end of Alien vs Predator when an eight-foot, fang-faced predator, using the acidic blood from the severed finger of an alien face-hugger, tenderly scorches a mark of courage and respect onto the cheek of the last human survivor.
She grimaces as her skin burns, and then their eyes meet across the great expanse of space and time that separates both cultures, and then they kiss … or they would have if the queen alien hadn't eviscerated the woman's new friend with the pointy end of her tail. And there ends the almost-birth of a new movie genre, the inter-species romcom.
Alien vs Predator was directed by Paul WS Anderson, whose other movies include the flawed but decent Event Horizon, one of his few non-video game tie-ins – which despite a strong cast, including a slimline Laurence Fishburne, was a critical and financial failure. (This due largely to the fact that someone apparently replaced the original ending with "Hellraiser in space" and didn't tell any of the cast except Sam Neill. Which would explain why Neill appears to be channelling Clive Barker's Pinhead in the final scenes.) Even less well known, despite starring the incomparable Kurt Russell, was Soldier. Again it was a commercial and critical flop, perhaps because of the fact that it co-starred Jason Scott Lee, previously Mowgli in the live-action version of The Jungle Book, as a psychotic, genetically modified super-soldier.
But I'm sure that Anderson doesn't care about such minor setbacks, as he can always churn out yet another in the mindless, money-raking Resident Evil franchise. There he can hone his minimalist approach to plotting, scripting and characterisation, while keeping the money in the family by casting his wife, Milla Jovovich, in the lead role for all 300 planned movies.
In fairness to Anderson, he does two things well: action sequences and turning video game franchises into profitable movies. If he achieves nothing else in his career, then at least he will have done society a favour by encouraging his spotty-faced target demographic, pale and blinking, out of their bedrooms and into the light, even if only for the time that it takes them to get from house to cinema.
So, to the plot of AvP, for what it's worth. A dying businessman, Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen), and a "crack" team of experts are investigating the source of an unidentifiable signal emanating from beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, which also happens to be the site of an old whaling station, mysteriously abandoned exactly 100 years before. Spooky. When Weyland and his team arrive, ready to start digging into the ice, they find that a perfectly round tunnel has already been cut using technology not of this world. A bit like Crossrail then.
At this point, and for the 100th time in 10 minutes, they ignore the advice of the expedition guide (a game Sanaa Latham), and Weyland leads his team down into the unknown. At the bottom of the tunnel they discover a 1,000-year-old pyramid that has clearly been built by a race of space-travelling warriors, the predators. And it soon becomes obvious that the humans have been lured there to act as host bodies to baby aliens that, once fully grown into the now familiar HR Giger-inspired killing machines, will be hunted by the predators as part of a rite-of-passage.
Needless to say it all goes horribly wrong, proving that no matter how technologically advanced you are, anything that involves Tory-inspired transport initiatives will end in disaster. Before you can say "sacrificial chamber", baby aliens are sprouting through ribcages like blood-splattered daffodils during a particularly fecund spring. Soon everyone is running and screaming through a maze of randomly shifting tunnels, and dying in a variety of painful and ingenious ways. And along the way we discover that one of my long-held beliefs is in fact true: that this is how the great indigenous civilisations of the Americas perished.
AvP owes its genesis more to the video games than to the movies that preceded them, but this actually weighs in its favour in that it is not tied down by the conventions of the originals. (Although, that didn't stop the wonderfully loopy Jean-Pierre Juenet from making the spectacularly bonkers Alien Resurrection, a movie that, having Winona Ryder as a vengeful synthetic lifeform, is responsible for one of the most ill-judged casting decisions of all time.) And so, while I am still plagued by the question of how the aliens, without so much as gulping down a bottle of powdered milk, go from eight inches long to seven feet tall in the space of five minutes, in this context I no longer need to care.
As with all of Anderson's films, AvP looks good and moves fast, and once the action gets going there is no letting up. For me, though, the cast is the best thing about it. In what a cynic might view as a cynical marketing move, the casting of Henriksen is inspired, as both he and the character he plays are a physical link to the Alien franchise proper, lending the movie a specious legitimacy. He is also a decent performer who has been in mostly terrible films, but whose gravelly voice and dried-shammy features always lend much needed gravitas to the nonsense around him.
But it's Spud from Trainspotting (aka Ewen Bremner) who takes the plaudits, and to me he is generally the highlight of whatever tosh he's in. It's not that he's a great screen presence or any more gifted than the rest of the cast, it's just that we must applaud any fictional unemployed drug addict from an Edinburgh council estate who has achieved so much in one lifetime, even when it's only giving birth to baby aliens as opposed to seeing them crawl across the ceiling. It's fitting too that Spud should spend his final moments with his fellow countryman Tommy Flanagan, the Scottish bloke with the scarred face from Braveheart and Gladiator. Spud is perfect for this film, even if he's only here as an alien birth mother, because he does a great line in bug-eyed terror. And when his new mate is dragged off, screaming "freedom!" at the top of his lungs while on his way to a non-consensual coupling with an alien face-hugger, Spud's eyes say more than a thousand words ever could, they scream; where's that radge bampot Begbie when you need him?
Meanwhile, back in reality, the predators have turned up late and are none too happy with the humans messing with their Crossrail project. It's not only that some of the sacrificial humans are still alive, it's that they've also inadvertently stolen the predators' laser-guided weapons, thus making the outcome of the hunt a little less certain.
And here we come to an unpalatable truth that I have long tried to ignore: the Predators' sense of martial superiority stems primarily from their hunting weaker and less technologically advanced prey using advanced weaponry and cloaking technology. This seems a bit one-sided, and doesn't seem like a healthy societal dynamic to me. I'm proven correct when the aliens stop killing or impregnating solid British character actors and start picking on some beings their own size.
So there's little sympathy when the predators' invisibility cloaking fails and their over-reliance on technology leads to a green-bloodied end. But before they fall we witness the scene I had always dreamed of: a predator spinning an alien by the tail like an Olympic hammer thrower, before launching it across the screen.
And then there are two: one woman, one predator, and they do what they have to do. She proves her mettle doing what heavily armed eight-foot invisible predators clearly can't. She kicks alien arse, destroys the queen's eggs, and then they both race hand-in-claw into the night toward the almost-romantic denouement. Then, with her beau-that-will-never-be gone, it's down to the feisty Ripley-replacement to take out the alien queen and source some anti-scarring cream for her permanently disfigured face. He should have just given her a ring.
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