There's a scene near the beginning of AVP in which plucky environmentalist Lex Woods (Sanaa Lathan) and nerdy scientist Graham Miller (Ewen Bremner) are flying by 'copter towards the South Pole. A light comes on in the cockpit, causing Miller to nervously enquire why. "That means we've reached the point of no return," replies Lex knowingly.
Those aren't the words to inspire confidence in the minds of fans who've been waiting eons for Fox's feistiest sci-fi beasties to meet on screen. Especially when the man in charge of the face-off is Paul WS Anderson, whose Resident Evil efforts have been so depressingly damnable. Throw in Sigourney Weaver's public disavowal of the project and the workmanlike example of franchise cut'n'shutter Freddy Vs Jason, last year's stab at uniting two other long-running franchises, and the chances of exhilarating success are right up there with Catwoman's Oscar hopes.
How surprising, then, to find Alien Vs Predator delivers a perfectly serviceable helping of overblown smackdown entertainment that's at least some kind of improvement on both its heroes' most recent outings. Let's face it: after Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Alien: Resurrection the only way was up for the acid-blooded xenomorphs. And after Predator 2 limped out in 1990 you could count the punters gagging for more on the dreadlocks of its lizard-faced antagonist. Putting them together in one movie doesn't just make sense in the Fox accounts department; it meets a demand generated by the Aliens Vs Predator comic books and provides a boost for two ailing series, both desperately in need of new blood and fresh ideas.
Not that there are a great many of the latter in Anderson's workmanlike script. Inexplicably held off until the midway point, the first Alien/Predator punch-up is a major letdown: two guys in suits knocking seven bells out of each other as they crash into walls like drunken sluggers. Eventually, though, the film finds form, using effects stylishly but sparingly to fashion the required atmosphere of slimy dread. All the regulars are present and correct but sufficiently rethought to avoid déjà vu: face-huggers pouncing in military formation, cooler toys for the Predators and a bigger, Godzilla-style Alien Queen. And, just when we think we've seen it all, a stunning flashback to a previous Alien/ Predator battle.
Okay, so the humans aren't much to talk about: Lathan is no Weaver, while Lance Henriksen's participation as a human ancestor of his robot character Bishop only invites unwelcome comparisons to Aliens. AVP isn't in the same league, but it doesn't try to be, Anderson content to give fanboys just enough ooze, gore and shocks to make another instalment (Alien 6? Predator 4?) a rock-solid certainty.
Popcorn carnage for a Friday night. This sequel-prequel isn't a patch on the originals, but it'll sate fans without sullying either franchise.