Some spoilers for Predators below.
If you saw Predators this weekend, you witnessed the adventures of one of my new favorite action movie characters: Nikolai, a Russian Spetsnaz soldier played by former UFC competitor Oleg Taktarov.
There are a number of reasons why I think Nikolai is basically the greatest thing since Arnold Schwarzenegger told Bill Duke that right now, he's very hungry:
- He's played by an actual Russian. So depressingly often supporting characters who are supposed to be Russian are played by American actors who have to phonetically torture the language. Not so here. Taktarov is an honest-to-goodness Russki, and his muttered asides and exclamations in the mother tongue sound authentic. Bonus: his big last line in the film is not only in Russian, it's untranslated! (It's also difficult to translate, but it's basically a very literal version of "in your face").
- He doesn't die first. I spent much of Predators attempting to predict the order in which the eight main characters would be dispatched. I did pretty well overall, but was dead wrong with respect to Nikolai, who I was convinced would be the first to go. I mean, come on: he's a taciturn Russian brute who makes his entrance by peppering the two protagonists with machine gun fire. He's gotta go. But not only does he stick around, but he turns out to have a crucial role to play in the third act.
- He's hilarious. Taktarov has fantastic timing, and the movie has a real sense of humor. The scene where Nikolai tells Topher Grace's hapless Edwin to stay away from Walton Goggins' crazy mass murderer got a big laugh, though it's hard to convey on the page: the funny's in the editing, and Taktarov's delivery. Wonderful.
- He's a sweetheart. This part -- the fact that Nikolai turns out to be a lovable big lug -- is key. Taktarov has played mostly thugs and bullies, but Nikolai helps his fellow man, shows off pictures of his kids, and eventually makes a big sacrifice so that his comrades -- some more deserving than others -- can live to fight another day.
Okay, so Nikolai is not actually likely to make a lot of highlight reels. And maybe my interest in how Russian characters in American films are treated (hint: not like this) had something to do with my fondness for the guy. But I thought he was the best of the many pleasant surprises in Nimrod Antal's lively, expertly constructed franchise entry.