One of the fun things about the “Aliens/Predator” franchise is that it tries not to repeat itself. Every entry is a mix of horror, science fiction and action, but never in the same percentage. “Alien” was horror, “Aliens” was military action in space, “Alien 3” was a mood piece, “Alien Resurrection” was a rollercoaster ride, “Predator” was an ’80s actioner in the jungle, “Predator 2” was a cop flick, and “AVP: Alien vs. Predator” was a historical mystery mixed with a video game.
“AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator — Requiem” (2007) has the most ungainly, epic-sounding title of the series up to this point, but structurally, it’s quite simple. The isolated small town of Gunnison, Colo., is the setting for a story that builds up similarly to a slasher flick or disaster movie. We meet the townies and learn their stock relationships: A mom and dad split up by military duties. Estranged brothers. A girl who’s dating a jerk but secretly likes the nice guy.
These warmly familiar introductions are peppered in with a steady supply of Alien and Predator gore and shocks (I won’t say “scares,” because eight movies in, the fright factor has largely worn off). The mythology is also furthered as a Pred-alien is introduced. Although I’m not entirely sure why the Predator shuttle returns to Earth when the Pred-alien begins to run amok (I’m guessing a ship malfunction), once it crash-lands, the plot unfolds logically considering how ungainly it must be for writers to stay true to the facehugger-chestburster-xenomorph life cycle without boring people.
Adding a cool new touch is the full-grown Pred-alien, which apparently came from a queen facehugger in “AVP,” because it can lay multiple eggs directly into people’s mouths. Among gross-out moments in the saga, the scene of the woman being face-raped by the Pred-alien and the subsequent birthing of multiple Aliens is about as brilliantly disgusting as it gets (although the self-administered C-section in “Prometheus” probably edges it out).
“AVPR,” directed by the Brothers Strause, was widely bashed for being too visually dark. I had the same feeling when I first watched it, but I was able to follow most of the action on this repeat viewing. The mix of settings is evocative, too, from the forests around Gunnison to the sewer tunnels to the domestic and hospital locations.
There is some good dark humor, too. My favorite is when the dad (“True Blood’s” Sam Trammell) turns on the outdoor light to assure his daughter that there is no monster in the yard; suddenly, the Alien is right there and it bursts through the window.
Although the cast is likable enough — John Ortiz’s Sheriff Morales probably qualifies as the main character — they aren’t as memorable as previous characters in the saga (the first “AVP” also had this shortcoming). And there are perhaps too many homages. We get a shot-for-shot copy of the “Alien 3” scene where the Alien sidles up to Ripley in the doctor’s quarters. And can it be a coincidence that someone yells “Get to the chopper!” during the final act?
Despite using a standard horror template, “AVPR” salvages a bit of mythological depth by involving the government, which tricks the Gunnisonites into grouping at mid-town so they can more easily drop a bomb on them to wipe out the infestation. (A great line: “The government doesn’t lie to people.” Followed by a perfect beat of silence so the audience can snicker.) And then, just as we met Charles Weyland in “AVP,” here we meet Miss Yutani, a corporate type who gets her hands on a Predator gun. Thus, the Weyland-Yutani Corporation of the “Alien” films begins to fall into place. (This would be complicated a bit by the introduction of Peter Weyland in “Prometheus,” but I think it’s safe to say Charles and Peter are relatives and their companies are closely linked.)
Look, “AVPR” is no classic, but it brings something fresh to the saga with the isolated small-town setting and the introduction of the Pred-alien, while also remaining faithful to what came before and what comes next. It might mark the end of the “Aliens vs. Predator” branch of the saga — after all, how many times can these monsters square off before it becomes rote? Obviously, the studio wondered this too, as the ninth film (“Predators”) featured Predators only, and the 10th film (“Prometheus”) switched the focus to yet another species, the Engineers. But “AVPR” isn’t as bad as its 4.7 IMDB rating (obviously “Aliens” and “Predator” fans are tough to please), and this two-film detour was fun while it lasted.
Note: The first seven releases in the “Aliens/Predator” franchise had novelizations; the three most recent have not. I miss them, as they often gave depth to the films or provided insight into the scripting process, as some were written before the shooting script was locked. I enjoyed all of them, but the best reads are Alan Dean Foster’s “Alien,” A.C. Crispin’s “Alien Resurrection” and Paul Monette’s “Predator.” The weakest is Foster’s “Alien 3,” no doubt because he was rushed just like the filmmakers were.