Two science-fiction franchises, each with their own distinct voice, have been inextricably linked by two “Versus” films, so let’s finally settle this fight and rank each entry in the total canon of both in an effort to find out who would win in a cinematic street fight once and for all. What happens when a bag of cocaine is tasked with writing a sequel to a classic 80s action flick? Predator 2. This 1990 vision of 1997 Los Angeles verges on satire but doesn’t seem aware its bold predictions of the future are eccentric and silly. Classic cars and fedoras mix with bizarre stereotype-inspired street gangs and idiot cops who are engaged in a urban warfare that’s being constantly sensationalized by a media circus. Whereas the first film is a meditation of real violence, this one is an over-the-top cartoon where every character could have been played by an unleashed Nicholas Cage. Even though the franchise was taken out of the jungle and made in Hollywood, the audio and editing took a huge step backward. There are some interesting ideas here. This could have been a film with resonance, meditating on the tensions between the LAPD and the community it was meant to serve in a climate bubbling between the riots and OJ, pushed even further into division by the bloodthirsty media. That would still be relevant and not so cringeworthy as this. It would have been a tall order for a Predator flick, but sci-fi works best when it is an analog for something real like the first one was. Still, as ‘Race’ would later show, Stephen Hopkins is no John Singleton. He’s not even a John McTiernan. 2 out of 10 It is surprising that Alien3 was only greenlit after several other scripts were thrown out. It is even more surprising that super fans of the franchise prefer to consider one of the rejected screenplays to be “the real Alien 3.” This is David Fincher’s big screen debut, and he’s disavowed it. That’s really all you need to know, but it’s not all I’m going to rant about. No, other than the onset problems with the creature effects that resulted in bad CGI, a constantly changing alien, and a necessity for awkward steady cam shots roving down the halls, there were fundamental issues with the theatrical cut, so I opted instead to watch the Special Edition. It’s better, but still not good. Sigourney Weaver didn’t want to do another Alien film, and she only agreed to be in this one after being told she’d play a minor role. The hero of Alien3 was actually supposed to be Hicks, but — spoiler alert — they kill him and Newt essentially before the title card. But don’t worry. Even though Ripley was traumatized by her whole crew dying in the first film, she’s barely phased this go ’round. There’s only one scene where she expresses grief, and it was cut in the theatrical cut. Why show human emotion when she’s busy at the bone library (a sex euphemism I just invented), stupidly wandering around a prison full of rapists and murderers and almost getting — surprise! — raped and murdered, and refusing to warn the people on the planet she finds herself marooned on about possible danger despite that also being out of character. Gone is the capable, intelligent, fleshed-out character from the first two films. This Ripley is dumb, selfish, and heartless. Ripley was changed to serve the story, and the story is not good. It seems to be a meditation of faith in a world where ritual has become futile, and I guess that’s what it is. The studio had faith that the franchise would sell movie tickets even as the rituals of the lore have become hollow. 3 out of 10 AVP: Requiem is one of those sequels that presupposes the audience knows what to expect from both franchises, so it paints a by-the-numbers plot for each. Face huggers, chest burst, alien, repeat. Cloak, kill, hang and skin, repeat. The filmmakers set up human characters, trying to give the viewer something to care about, but they never give you a reason to care. He’s a cop and he’s nice to the returning convict with the brother who likes the girlfriend of a bully. Yeesh. It’s like John Rambo but in a teen comedy. She’s a returning soldier, and she has a kid! But the movie kills a kid right at the beginning, and I still don’t care. Heck, there are babies that are slaughtered, and it carried no weight. These are meat puppets and not compelling reasons to be drawn into the drama. So, the movie is, as David Fincher called it, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman. How does it fair if all you want to do is watch movie monsters fight? The xenomorphs are unimpressive and are filmed either in extreme close-up or awkward shaky cam. You know how in Jaws the shark is scary because they barely showed him? It’s like that but they show the broken shark the whole time. It is a huge step backward from the first entry, and even as the film promises to explore a xenomorph that is part Predator, the final product is unsatisfying. In short, Alien Versus Predator is uninspired and boring. 4 out of 10 What happens when the crew of Serenity comes up against a dozen xenomorph? Alien Resurrection. Joss Whedon’s soft boiled action-comedy has some interesting ideas, but other than some moderately interesting character creation and development, there’s little of interest here. Characters can’t be the only thing you hang your film on when you’re picking them off one by one by something that is dated and kind of played out in action scenes that are contrived and dull. Sigourney Weaver’s return isn’t much to write home about. She’s a clone with Ripley’s memories and she’s also a human/alien hybrid with Ripley’s memories. And she’s also not Ripley or an alien and only seems to have some of Ripley’s memories, certainly doesn’t have an emotional attachment to Ripley’s memories and seems pretty ambivalent about Ripley’s memories. 4 out of 10 Early on in The Predator, there’s a sign that says a school’s Halloween event “welcomes parents and stds,” and that level of humor is generally what you can expect from this. There is squabbling over whether the alien can truly be classified as a predator (or a bass fisher), an instance someone should “get to the choppah,” and a thumbs up given via severed arm. The movie feels improvised, mainly because if they are reciting what was written in a script, it must have been the first draft. This is a gore fest with improv Olympic jokes that would barely work in a kid’s film, and it makes me wonder who this movie was intended for. Between the wakka wakka of timely gastric issues and mugging suicide pacts, the characters, who seem to be well-versed in the previous movies in the franchise, jump to all kinds of conclusions in order to give the audience exposition. And oh, the exposition! So many new things are communicated to the audience that none of it is important for more than a few minutes of the film. The filmmakers squander every toy they create, whether it be one of the characters having a cloaking device, gene-splicing Predators, or – and I kid you not – asperger’s being the next evolution of man. There are so many things happening that the simple things get lost. Mainly, the predators don’t seem very tactical. They are clumsy and walk into traps and hardly use their advantage. This is the core of these films, and it is gone. The true villain in this movie is a cartoonishly evil beaurocrat and seems to be one of the several things here that were inspired by the second bat-@#$% movie. Heck, he even hangs out with Jake Busey, Gary’s son, for a dead end tangent toward the beginning. He sneers, eats mints, and is of generally little consequence other than to give the heroes people to shoot at. Our heroes here are a rag tag group of military mental patients. Sort of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, only they get aroused by violence. Instead of making commentary on the horrors of war, they make jokes you’d find on a popsicle stick. How is this a Shane Black movie?! I like the cast. Keegan-Michael Key is a favorite of mine, and Jacob Tremblay is, in my opinion, one of the greatest child actors in cinema history. While the characters they are given to play could have been something worthwhile, in the end, both of their talent was wasted on underdeveloped material. Olivia Munn keeps getting these big swings at movie stardom, but the movies she makes seem to capitalize more on her nerd cred than any ability and the final products are always underwhelming. If she has the chops, she needs to start cutting into something with more meat. Look, if you favor fan service and zany action to compelling, thoughtful storytelling, you might like this entry, but if you can’t turn your brain off to watch flashing lights, you will likely turn it off before the credits roll. 4.5 out of 10 Alien Versus Predator (Versus Ancient Aliens). This is one of those movies where so-called experts jump to conclusions merely to give audiences exposition, and I hate that. Taking two well-established franchises, this film overcomplicates AND undermines. The idea that the Predators gave early humans religion is… silly. They are big game hunters with a single-minded devotion to finding deadly game, killing it, and taking trophies. Whether they even consume the meat or not is unclear. They aren’t our friends, and they make terrible gods. Even more concerning, a huge part of their lore is that they are always developing new tools for their hunts, and here they are shown in prehistoric times with the same equipment and weapons they had in current day. Aliens are… Well, their creation mythos makes it impossible for them to have existed on earth in ancient times. None of this important when you’re dealing with a silly blockbuster that’s meant to keep you from thinking about ANYTHING, but I can’t switch my brain off long enough for that. The theme of exploration and discovery is interesting, but it gets lost in the muck pretty quickly. 5 out of 10 Changing genre yet again, Alien Covenant moves the franchise to adventure, and again Ridley Scott is not afraid to further the lore, taking what qualifies as a xenomorph flick and broadening it into something that carries the spirit of what makes the franchise something that gets under your skin and bursts unexpectedly from your body. Ridley Scott seems to be exploring his own creation while delving into the nature of a creator/creation dynamic. In these stories, the creation always kills the creator, and that’s certainly how he must have felt watching the Alien films devolve into something so pedestrian over the decades. This is not just about film and art, though that is in the bloodline from start to finish. No, this is an aging man’s view of the world, society, religion, the meaning of life, birth and rebirth, myth, and the future. This is some deep stuff, but it’s told with such a masterful hand that the film never gets bogged down or bloated. It soars. 7 out of 10 Ridley Scott returns with Prometheus. It is an Alien movie in that it ties into the original, but unlike Aliens, that did it well, and the others, that did it poorly, it doesn’t merely spit out the same formula. Alien worked because it was original and very well made. Aliens worked because it changed things up and was very well made. The others were too similar and made to be fan services, which generally dooms a project at the onset. Ridley Scott is probably the only one with the gravitas and cajones to make something wholly original that reshapes and contextualized the material. Honestly, I would have probably liked this film more without the two “zombie” scenes. They seemed tacked on and like they were from a different movie, but they were utilized to build tension and evolve the story into the body horror direction. Still, I wish they had replaced them with something more close to the theme. 7.5 out of 10 Predators isn’t a study of theme or a morality tale. It doesn’t strive to do anything more than build upon expectations, but like Aliens was to Alien, Predators is the sequel Predator deserved. Nimrod Antal (director) and Robert Rodriguez (producer) seem to have come from the James Cameron school, retaining the purity of the source material and engaging in lofty world-building that propels a simple but clever story forward. What the film does well, it does with seemingly little effort, but none of it is easy. A lot of other flicks fail. First, the characters are all likeable, or at least interesting to watch. Even Walton Goggins’s depraved inmate is engaging and somehow sympathetic despite the bigotry, rape-talk, and implied incest. Each death has impact, and I think a lot of this had to do with casting. Every choice was spot on. The second major strength is the action. In an era of shaky cam coverage and confusing choreography, each of the sequences plays out with building tension, clarity, and reasonable tactics. A bonus thing I liked was the return of Little Richard in the credits. RIP There are, of course, a few things that didn’t work, at least for me. Major spoilers in this paragraph. The biggest one is the infinite ammo, which is made all the worse in the final confrontation when a surprisingly shredded Adrian Brody decides to fight with a jawbone like Samson. The other is when Topher Grace’s character acts as bait, an act a psychopath would never agree to as his narcissism and perceived elevated status would make self preservation his greatest goal. All-in-all, this film won’t make you reflect upon a whole lot. It kind of paints man as the monster, but it does so without challenging the viewer. It’s not going to win any awards, but it’s well-made and a lot of fun. 7.5 out of 10 Predator, like a lot of 80s action flicks, was a cathartic release of energy still penned up from the conflict in Vietnam. State of the art American commandos with a cutting edge arsenal are dispatched to a jungle country behind enemy lines. These men are warriors, but they don’t love combat. They want to fight for a worthy cause but are tricked into a situation they aren’t happy about and have to fight an enemy they neither understand or can see. Even as the soldiers must adapt to survive, in the end, no one wins. There is nothing but carnage and death, and our hero gets on the choppah’ traumatized by what he’s had to endure. The film is still great, because the simple story is told with as much creativity as possible. The action scenes are well paced and clear. The technology is dated, and the Predator vision is particularly painful to watch today. But the creature make-up and costuming is still impressive. It’s also a hoot to watch governors fight an alien. 8.5 out of 10 Aliens follows the same story beats as the original, but it shifts the genre from horror to action. Just as he did with his Terminator films, James Cameron raises the bar for various aspects of the film. While adhering to and respecting the source material, he widens the scope, makes the creature something that works in light and darkness, and creates action sequences that are clear and exciting. I watched the Special Edition, which included about sixteen minutes the studio didn’t let Cameron finish. They wanted more screenings, so the running length had to be shortened. I personally feel these sequences added a lot to the narrative, particularly the sequences that showed the colony before the invasion. Sequels aren’t easy, but this is a masterclass in one way that works. It is bigger without becoming a cartoon (*cough cough* Predator 2). The script is careful to put the protagonist into a realistic place (Who are they after the events of the original? How are they affected by what they went through? What could have happened to them between the films?), and it builds on threads the first left untied (the implied idea corporations are running the future). The movie doesn’t have a lot to say on its own. It’s more of an echo of the themes from the original, but instead of diminishing the impact, Cameron seemed to know exactly what to amplify. 9 out of 10 Alien is brilliantly simple and a game-changer for film. Unlike most sci-fi films of the past, the crew of the Nostromo seem like people I might actually encounter in my life. They spring onto the screen with lives. All the backstory we need is in how they speak and what they say and how they interact with one another. They are able to immediately gain my sympathies even as I feel I am watching them from a distance. The world they live in is cold and void. It’s dark, and everything is damp. The ship seems lived in and functional. It’s a job site and not some lofty space shuttle of the future. While it is perhaps a bit difficult to relate to the isolation of hurtling through space and exploring ancient tombs on distant moons, it is easy to imagine a future where people have been assessed as merely being commodities for corporations. It’s easy, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic when I am writing this, to understand how those corporations might view their employees as expendable. How they might value the potential for profit over the safety of their workers. This is a film about alien creatures that plant offspring inside of you by force. By shoving a tentacle down your throat. This creature gestates inside of you and bursts forth to create chaos. This is a film where the central computer is called Mother. It is the computer that directs the crew to the beacon. The computer that later says the new alien is a bigger priority than the others. This is a film where a robotic man tries to force a rolled up porn magazine into our hero’s mouth before coughing up white fluid. This is a film that examines the body horror of carrying the product of rape to term, and it is so effective that even as the protagonist is one of cinema’s greatest female heroes, the terror is made real for every character and anyone who sits in the dark to watch, regardless of their experiences. There is a reason this film has been so enduring, a reason the ideas therein have been replicated to varying degrees of success, and that’s because the horrors are entirely relatable. Whereas pretty much all of the special effects in this film hold up forty years later, the need to always obscure the xenomorph through darkness, set dressing, or extreme close-up leaves the majority of the action sequences a choppy mess. Other than the finale with the airlock, I was left guessing what had happened to these characters I had become so fond of. This also spills over into the penultimate scene with Ash, where his sudden freak-out of spinning and flailing could have been built up to a little better. Still, the face-hugger and chest-bursting scenes are so good, it’s very easy to forgive the rest. 9.5 out of 10 So, what do you think? Which film franchise has the edge? Which is your favorite?