The Alien franchise peaked in 2004. Although the film Prometheus is misunderstood and, actually pretty good, thinking of it as a true Alien film almost feels wrong.
After Alien 3 in 1992 and Alien: Resurrection in 1997, the franchise went from high-end sci-fi to horror sci-fi that seemed designed to be directly released on VHS. This may sound like an insult but for 2004’s Alien vs. Predator, embracing the schlock-horror vibe is what made the movie work brilliantly. Here’s why this massively underrated Alien (and Predator) movie is worth another look, and how it basically predicts Prometheus. Only very mild spoilers ahead.
Is Alien Vs. Predator actually good?
This is a tricky question to answer. Saying AvP is a “good” movie is a statement that exists on a sliding scale, given the quality of other films in their loosely connected franchises. Relative to its borderline-unwatchable sequel, AvP: Requiem, this movie is a masterpiece. But relative to Aliens (1986) or the first Predator (1987), AvP will scan as exactly what it looks like: an attempt to cash in on vague early-aughts nostalgia for both franchises while simultaneously emulating a comic-book trend in which Aliens and Predators are always fighting everyone. (If you missed Batman Versus Predator in 1993 or Superman Versus Aliens in 1997, you missed a very special time in comic-book history.)
Basically, the novelty concept of having two monsters fight each other wasn’t invented by this film, nor was it pioneered by ‘90s comics. Even before King Kong Vs. Godzilla in 1963, you had Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man in 1943; monster mashes are inherently retro, and if you’re not down with the basic coolness of two monsters fighting for contrived reasons, then you’ve essentially misunderstood the reason this subgenre exists. So, yes, as these kinds of movies go, AvP is great, and it’s certainly better than Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man. That may sound like a joke, but if you like these kinds of movies, it’s actually a huge compliment.
How AvP predicted Prometheus
Although the canonicity of AvP relative to either the Alien or Predator franchises is highly questionable, the basic setup of AvP bears some striking similarities to that of Prometheus. Both films attempt to reconcile the origins of the Weyland Corporation by introducing its CEO, Charles Bishop Weyland. In AvP, this guy is played by Lance Henriksen, who more famously played the android Bishop in Aliens. In Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, Charles Bishop Weyland was overwritten by Guy Pearce’s Peter Weyland, but the similarities between the two are interesting. Both Prometheus and AvP feature manipulative 21st-century moguls of the Weyland Corporation thrust into their main action, and both films also posit that the Xenomorphs are tied up in various aspects of Earth’s pre-history.
To be clear, the plots are fairly different, but if you squint, AvP is as if the crew in Prometheus took a ride to Antarctica instead of a distant planet. Obviously the connections between the Predators and the Xenomorphs are contrived, but to reach the point at which the script needs both sets of monsters to do battle, almost anything goes.
Within all of this, actress Sanaa Lathan’s performance as Alexa Woods is actually fairly badass, and one of those interesting moments in which a sci-fi action star should have been born but for whatever reason wasn’t. This may sound odd but, back in 2004, a film like Alien Vs. Predator simply wasn’t taken as seriously as it may have been taken even ten years later. The critical view of sci-fi fantasy movies in 2004 hadn’t yet transformed into the kind of mainstream scrutiny these films receive now. This isn’t to say AvP holds up to that scrutiny in every single way, but it’s much better than you might think.
In fact, in terms of pure enjoyment, AvP is probably a more satisfying film than Prometheus, Alien: Covenant, or 2018’s The Predator. It’s a movie that knows its audience and gives us exactly what we want. It may not rise above that goal, but if you’re looking for a movie where chest-bursters burst and Predators are dangerous AF, AvP delivers the goods. Just try not to think too hard about the implication of the Predator/Xenomorph hybrid. It will hurt your brain.