So, how much of a cognitive workout does AVP: Alien v Predator provide?
Many years ago Surfer and I were sitting on the top step of Temple Two at Tikal, amidst a group of Danish travellers observing little figures attempting the precarious (and now prohibited) ascent of Temple One directly across the main acropolis from our comfortable vantage point.
"What is this place?" one suddenly queried, disturbing the mood of vacant detachment. Her companion reckoned he had the answer: "It is a temple. A temple for the sacrificing of human peoples...und mice"
I dread to think what strange thoughts will be swilling around in the heads of future visitors to the great archaeological sites of Central America, and especially those that have seen this movie.
I rather think that audience enjoyment of this movie will be boosted in inverse proportion to their background knowledge of anything except the two competing monster franchises. Knowing for example that the Aztecs were an early-modern not an ancient civilisation and that, unlike the Maya, they lacked a coherent glyphic writing system is one of those pieces of knowledge best left behind in the foyer.
About midway through the film Sebastian, the Italian archaeologist with the hopeless task of filling in the plot-holes, brightly observes "It's starting to make sense now". Perhaps it is, but only because most of the other human characters have just been rather rapidly despatched, as they collectively represent a half-hearted backstory that is best terminated with extreme prejudice. This hopeless bunch marched to their doom without asking even the most basic questions of their situation along the way.
We first encounter Sebastian at Teotihuacan, which unlike the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan was indeed (comparatively) ancient and mysterious. A missed opportunity? The makers must have decided that the only Mesoamericans that would be spontaneously recalled by their target demographic would be Moctezuma's lot. But personally I find that the assumption of ignorance upsets my ability to enjoy the parts of this film that are undoubtedly very entertaining, such as the head-to-head fight scenes between the two sets of dentist's nightmares.
AVP could have been so much better if the screenwriters had at least tried to construct the story as it it were the first outing for these inter-galactic über-nasties. They wouldn't have had to be unfaithful to either tradition to do this, and they might even have established a new spin off sci-fi deathmatch franchise in the process.