In my completely voluntary trawl through Paul W. S. Anderson’s oeuvre — and I write “voluntary” to emphasize the fact that I wasn’t threatened with sharp implements to watch this — his 2004 goo-fest with the unwieldy and literal-minded title, AVP: Alien vs. Predator, actually stands as something of an achievement. Sure, it’s icky to look at, it comes with a backstory that’s patent nonsense, but nonetheless provides excitement in an efficiently dumb way.
I’m beginning to see a pattern in Andersonian aesthetics: his use of confined spaces, nifty computer wireframes and heat maps of underground facilities — the temple is really just the Hive from Resident Evil — brutish fight scenes, and as much darkness and grime as possible. One may say the same of the plot and dialogue as well: a group of people picked off one by one, ludicrous exposition, and merely serviceable acting. But hey, don’t let such problems get in the way of a good action flick.
A mysterious “heat bloom” appears underneath an Antarctic island, and a hastily assembled team of experts — almost all of which you want dispatched immediately — are sent to investigate what looks like an Aztec temple beneath the ice. And before you can yell “Erich von Daniken,” we discover that these creatures from outer space have been here all along and responsible as well for the Egyptian pyramids and Angkor Wat. The temple itself is a deadly gladiatorial maze, part-Tomb Raider, part-Hellraiser cube, with interior design appropriately regurgitated (or reGigergated?) from the Alien series. (Good thing they brought someone who could read hieroglyphics, but I would’ve been a little more excited to see the Cambodian-alien connection instead.)
There’s no hiding the fact that AVP is merely a spiffed-up, bloodier version of a Saturday matinee movie like Frankenstein Meets the Creature from the Black Lagoon. But it’s nonetheless an ambitious attempt at a franchise crossover; we don’t see that stuff very often anymore, with the exception, thankfully singular, of Freddy vs. Jason. (Don’t get me started about that Homicide: Life on the Streets / Law and Order crossover episode though.) It’s an interesting if nonsensical attempt, at least, at building a “mythology” that connects the two series: either the underground temple is a prison for the Aliens, with the Predators as guards, or it’s a proving ground for Predator warriors-to-be, or both. The cast of AVP seems fairly game, especially Lance Henriksen, whose billionaire character is a reference to the android he plays in both James Cameron’s Aliens (from 1986) and David Fincher’s Alien3 (1992).*
But once most of the humans have been summarily dismembered and slimed — as annoying as they are and all — they’re suddenly, surprisingly, missed. (The last person standing is Sanaa Lathan, the Ripley substitute who gets to battle (again) the ostensibly female monster boss.) The film builds up to the showdown between the titular characters, and that’s where AVP begins to fall flat. It’s kind of hard, after all, to sympathize with or root for creatures who, you know, aren’t very expressive or articulate about their feelings. (But someone like Milla Jovovich, she’s another story.)
*I was unaware of the reference until my film buddy pointed this out, particularly in a scene when Henriksen plays the five-finger fillet with a knife. So glad I know someone slightly geekier than me. She also happens to be the one who set me in my place while watching Nimrod Antal’s Predators (2010), which builds on the same warrior themes as AVP.