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AVP: Alien Vs. Predator (2004)
Writer and director: Paul W.S. Anderson

review by Christopher Geary
Spoiler alert!
A guilty pleasure, for sure, this monster-mash 'clash of the titans' sci-fi action adventure has been long awaited, not just by followers of the original Alien and Predator movies, but especially by fans of the comicbook source. Yes, it's a rare instance of today's Hollywood turning out their schlock pockets to pool 'resources' and mix competing screen franchises (it we discount Universal's Van Helsing, and the pulp-property catchall of League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, then Freddy Vs. Jason was the last proper example, I think), but surely the sense of irreverence necessary for such films to succeed would save Alien Vs. Predator, or AVP (reflecting the brain-numbing corporate insistence on logo/branding of League's 'LXG'), from becoming as patently ridiculous as Japan's too-numerous Godzilla team-ups and showdowns? Well, only just...

Its relentlessly populist approach to narrative (greedy humans caught in the aliens' trap results in chases and shootouts, before the heroine sides with one of the hunter-aliens to fight their common enemy) betrays the production's exploitative origins, and the action plays out like an uninspired videogame - with mission goals inside a shape-shifting 'ancient' pyramid beneath an Antarctic island, which turns the battleground into an absurdist maze - but this movie is nonetheless quite entertaining of its type. Despite a storyline that's even more predictable than expected, Paul W.S. Anderson's thriller manages to live up to any cliché-tolerant audience's expectations before the end. But, make no mistake; the climax of the film is by far its best part. As the bulk of this picture is concerned only with disposing of a motley crew of human stereotypes (overconfident techies, overcurious boffins, stoic engineers, and brusque bodyguards), its main dramatic scenes - those few that are capable of fully engaging our attention, let alone audience emotions, anyway - occur when surviving heroine Alex (Sanaa Lathan, in the sort of role that would usually be offered to Gina Torres) finds herself alone on the icy surface, caught between the last two powerful and grotesque extraterrestrials, as the special effects finally connect with the stunts to provide some genuine excitement for the final violent confrontation.

Because this has been in development for well over a decade we might expect plenty of influences, but the sheer number of borrowings and blatant steals - all without a hint of proper 'homage' to make then forgivable - is almost breathtaking. There's a line about carrying weapons paraphrased from True Romance. Wide-shots and interiors at the Antarctic whaling station are evocative of Carpenter's The Thing. The multicultural 'first pyramid' is reminiscent of Dark City, Cube and the Indiana Jones movies. The Aliens enjoy moments in the spotlight; like when the face-huggers jump towards their prey in Matrix-style slow motion, while the hunting party of Predators maintain their now-familiar rituals, acting more like dreadlocked Klingons with acute dental deformities than ever before, but sans the Star Trek tribal warriors' verbose posturing (and, thankfully, without need of the cringe-worthy battle anthems, too). Aware of intense fan interest, the filmmakers scatter in-jokes, visual cues and other references (ripe for discovery by DVD freeze-framers) to both Predator and Alien 'mythologies' throughout the movie.

The likes of Lance Henriksen, Ewen Bremner, and Colin Salmon (from Pierce Brosnan's recent 007 outings) are largely wasted in roles that are deemed surplus to storytelling requirements once their function as deliverers of exposition is complete. Skating over bottomless plot-holes, and struggling to overcome most of the skiffy scenario's gross implausibility, AVP emerges from the confusions of its cross-generic birth as a brave foray into difficult filmic territory. It's actually an unfortunate failure rather than a miserable one. There are good points (if you can be bothered to look for them), including a measure of giant-monster awesomeness to be found in the sequence where several Aliens swarm over the mechanism that imprisons - and tortures - their fertile Queen; and keeping score during the cat-and-mouse, stalk 'n' slash episodes between Predators and Aliens can be grisly fun.

On the journey home from the local multiplex, it seemed appropriate to brainstorm a plot for something like "Alien-Queen® versus King KongTM." Hmm, I wonder if Peter Jackson might be interested it the idea...
AVP

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