The Predator opens on a starscape of swirling gasses and pinpricks of lights that immediately reminded me of 1980s film studio Orion’s title sequence. That awesome nostalgic reverie is quickly forgotten though as two alien spaceships, sleek silvery shapes realized in shiny CGI, blast into frame noisily as they engage in an intergalactic dogfight. Watching it at the time, little did I know I had just seen a very apt summation of the discordant film to come.
Writer/director Shane Black’s bombastic, slightly bonkers feature is the latest entry in the franchise that began with John McTiernan’s sweaty 1987 classic about a military unit that finds themselves hunted in the Central American jungle by a high-tech alien warrior armed with explosive weaponry, stealthy camouflage and a face not even a mother could love. That original film was all veiny biceps and endlessly quotable dialogue (GET TO DA CHOPPA!) thanks to a testosterone-heavy cast led by Arnold Schwarzenegger while its 1990 sequel toned down the machismo and transplanted the action to the concrete jungle of LA as it expanded the Predator mythology.
Now we get a mix of both approaches with some suburbia even thrown in for good measure as one of the aforementioned spaceships crashes right on top of a trio of US soldiers in Mexico. The ship’s pilot, another of the dreadlocked alien hunters from the first films, wastes no time in laying gory waste to the combatants it encounters, before being stopped (just barely) by Boyd Holbrook’s army sniper Quinn McKenna, the sole survivor. Knowing that nobody will believe his extraterrestrial ass-kicking efforts, Quinn manages to get out with some alien tech souvenirs before a government task force led by Sterling K. Brown’s deliciously scenery-chewing G-man Traeger contains the scene.
Quinn eventually gets rounded up as well, but not before sending his alien souvenirs to the address of his estranged wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski) and their autistic savant son Rory (Jacob Tremblay). Meanwhile, Olivia Munn’s evolutionary biologist Casey Bracket is brought in to study the captured Predator (that technically incorrect moniker being a running gag throughout) and makes a startling discovery about the ET right before it escapes in violent fashion to go after its lost gear.
Quinn, finding himself in a military bus full of ex-soldiers nuttier than squirrel poop and knowing where the Predator is headed, decides to take his new ragtag team to go stop the creature. The only problem is that they’re not the only ones in this hunt as the occupant of the second spaceship is seriously out for blood, whether it be red or neon green.
Black, who acted in the original film and punched up its script, gets to basically make the movie he would have made if he had stepped behind the camera himself for a third film back then. There’s an instantly recognizable 80s throwback air as characters speak in poster taglines while the action gets every bit as bloody as Arnie’s earlier work from the get-go. By the time Henry Jackman’s score started recycling Alan Silvestri’s iconic original theme music, I felt like I immediately needed to slip into a pair of stonewashed jeans and lace up my North Stars. If you know what those things are then you will undoubtedly get a kick out of how unashamedly retro Black’s efforts feel at times.
You may also want to kick some characters in the face though.
Holbrook is pretty solid in hero mode, but his is a generic guise. Black seemingly makes up for this by having his new unit be nothing but walking collections of tics and punchlines dialled up to 11. Trevante Rhodes’ Nebraska Williams gets some gravitas, but the other four – played by Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, and Augusto Aguilera – are just there as comic relief.
While they do elicit some genuinely hearty laughs, these self-titled “Loonies” also prompt a barrage of mournful groans with their antics. Some of these comedy bits are annoyingly crass, others outstay their welcome rapidly, while more are painfully awkward in light of current behind-the-scenes drama. What all of them have in common though, is they are completely superfluous and serve no other purpose except to halt whatever brutal momentum Black’s grisly action builds up. And the action is most definitely great whenever the iconic movie monster shows up, Black dreaming up inventively gory beats around the Predator’s kit and giving fans exactly what they’ve wanted to see. But even that gets undercut just a tad though when the guy-in-a-suit practicality gets swapped out for iffy CG halfway through.
The script – which Black co-wrote with his Monster Squad collaborator Fred Dekker – is also filled with character beats that either lead nowhere or aren’t earned, ginormous leaps of logic, clumsy blink-and-you-miss-it main character deaths, plain old dumb actions, and a severe habit of over-explanation. We know that Holbrook’s Quinn is an amazing soldier because the movie keeps having characters literally tell us this, just in case we forget.
On the other hand, you may quickly forget that Olivia Munn’s Casey is just a biologist as the moment she steps out of the lab, frantic and frightened, she goes into full-on assault rifle-toting action heroine mode. It makes for a badass showing, but also one which makes no sense in the context of her character. As the de facto human villain of the film though, Brown at least has a ton of fun as he gets to spit out Black’s dialogue, his immensely enjoyable cocky bravado selling even the dumbest of lines.
No matter who delivers it though, nobody can sell the film’s third act plot reveals and silly final moments. Black shows off appreciated creative ambition earlier, expanding the Predator mythology with clever insight into why these horrifically mandibled warriors are always off trophy hunting in the galaxy. However, his ambition edges into the ridiculous during scenes meant to set up a sequel but which instead just prompts eye-rolls so intense as to cause vertigo.
What we end up with is a clunky great/terrible hybrid of a film. The raw building blocks of its 80s sci-fi thriller DNA is very much prevalent, and whenever The Predator flexes the action muscles derived from that, it’s a bloody good time and I had a blast. But it’s also an over-engineered mess, boasting both undercooked and overcooked ideas and characters. While definitely watchable (and even enjoyable at times), if you were looking for the movie that could rekindle the glory of that 1987 original, then I’m afraid your hunt continues.
Last Updated: September 17, 2018