REVIEW – The Predator

The Predator, so much movie with a lot to say that somehow manages to say nothing and leaves more to be desired.

 

[WARNING: MAY CONTAIN MILD SPOILERS FOR THE PREDATOR]

The Predator is the fourth installment in the Predator franchise (sixth if you count the two Alien VS Predator movies) and feels like the most ambitious film in the franchise. The first Predator film was a star vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger, a traditional 80’s action film with the twist that it’s a sci-fi monster/slasher film in disguise, much like the title monster that changes the genre halfway through. Predator 2 goes for the urban crime drama. Predators is a cheap but effective B science fiction film. The Predator is trying to be a big budget high concept spectacle version of the property that brings so much new mythos to the franchise hoped to be explored in later sequels. It aims big but misses its target.

When it was first announced Shane Black was directing The Predator it was met with universal praise. Shane Black being in the original Predator is a cute factor but not the key to why people were excited (although it is still a strange turn of events. It would be like Elizabeth Banks going from a small role in the Spider-Man films to years later directing one). Shane Black’s work as a screenwriter speaks for itself. Lethal Weapon is still regarded as one of the best action/comedy scripts of all time, and The Last Action Hero has gained a cult following in recent years. Combine that with his directorial work that includes Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3, and the criminally underseen The Nice Guys there were plenty of reasons to be excited. Fans knew they would get a witty, subversive, and 80’s-feeling Predator film.

Sadly something got lost along the way. Based off how choppy the first act of the film is and that the third act is entirely reshot, it appears that Fox got cold feet with Black’s take on the property. (Note: Fox was entirely in the right to cut the scene involving Steve Wilder, and Olivia Munn did the right thing voicing concerns to Fox. Shane Black is entirely responsible for that decision, which raises some red flags). Somebody didn’t seem too keen on poking fun at the franchise and instead tried to salvage it to a more traditional Predator film. What is left is three movies worth of ideas slammed together and cut under two hours. It is somehow a lot while at the same time not being enough.

The basic premise is that Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is a soldier who escapes an encounter with a Predator and manages to take off with some of its gear. He mails the gear to himself which, due to a postal mishap, ends up at the house of his ex-wife and autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay). Rory opens the box and finds the Predator mask and gauntlet and finds out he can understand the alien language. In an attempt to make sure Quinn doesn’t spill anything about his encounter he is assigned to a bus full of individuals dubbed ‘The Loonies’ (Trevante Rhodes, Keegan Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, and Augusto Aguilera). Meanwhile, scientist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is recruited by the government to examine the body and tech of the Predator that Quinn encountered earlier. When the Predator escapes and goes looking for its gear the Loonies must break out, and team up with Bracket to go save Rory from the Predator, and from government agent Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) who wants to unlock the secrets of the Predator and a new highly evolved Predator with a new agenda for the human race.

If that sounds like a lot of plot going on for one movie, that’s because it is. The film is overstuffed with ideas that honestly could have been fleshed out into their own singular type of Predator movie. A  twisted version of E.T . with the Predator in the suburbs at Halloween? A military story about a group of soldiers with PTSD? A film about a doctor and crazy hybrid aliens? A humorous self-aware meta-commentary on the nature of the Predator franchise? A message about global warming and endangered species? All of those are interesting premises on their own, but here they are so smushed together that no idea is allowed to be fully explored. The first act has a real hard time setting up these very distant plot threads in how awkwardly the scenes transition from one another with no real sense of purpose or pace.

When the three separate storylines do merge is when the film truly comes to life and is the best part of the movie. All the actors do a great job making their banter work off each other, and it might be the first time in the Predator franchise where some real thought is put into the characters outside of the lead. You are concerned for their lives and actually hope they make it out. The humor is a key factor of why this film works so well. One aspect Predators forgot about is that the first half of original Predator has plenty of humorous moments among the team bantering with one another. This film gets that and cranks it up to eleven. Sadly, as act two transitions into act three, the film forgets about its sense of humor.

As previously stated, the cast is all top notch. Like the Predator films before, the cast is filled out with some of our best character actors. Boyd Holbrook has a true leading man swagger, where every line he says sounds like an action hero. Keegan Michael Key can make any joke, no matter how unpleasant, sound humorous. Jacob Tremblay continues to show why he is one of the best child actors working today. Sterling K. Brown is having a ball chewing the scenery as the film’s human antagonist and delivers every line with an over-the-top menace. Trevante Rhodes plays the cool guy member of the team so effectively part of me thinks he isn’t acting. When you hire a talented cast they can do a lot of the heavy lifting and smooth over some of the cracks in the story department because they infuse it with life.

Thomas Jane is fine here but something feels missing from his character. His Tourette’s storyline feels like it is supposed to have a greater thematic tie-in (what is a perceived disadvantage is actually a strength) but it never comes through in the end. Another victim of the third act rewrite. Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones) is on hand, but he is the least memorable of the team. It seems the filmmakers even forgot him because he isn’t present at all in one scene among all the other key players with no mention of him. Newcomer Augusto Aguilera does fine work with what he is given, but because of how big the other personalities are he often gets left to the sidelines. Yvonne Strahovski is also sadly wasted here, and there really is no reason for her character not to come along for the action.

The film’s MVP is Olivia Munn, who gives her best performance to date here. She owns every scene she is in and seems to have the best understanding of the material. Self-aware but entirely sincere at the same time. Delivers every comedic beat on point but can jump back to the exposition machine and make it believable and engaging. Her contribution towards the finale seems like the makings of a great action hero who could be for this franchise what Ripley is for the Alien series. If there is one frustrating aspect it is that her character is regulated to the side when it appears she should be the lead. For a movie that tries to subvert some elements of the Predator mythos, it appears that they still didn’t want to move beyond “macho man takes on the Predator with one woman in the roster.”

The film does deliver on its hard R rating, which easily might be the most fun aspect of the movie. You get to see Predator brutality realized to its full R rating potential in a sense of gore not yet seen in this franchise. Embracing the 80’s slasher angle of the original does create for some crowd-pleasing moments. The Predator truly feels like a movie monster for the first time in years. Yet the overindulgence of a CGI Predator does distract from the film’s throwback to the 80’s feel.

One final aspect I want to touch on is the Predator lore. Each Predator installment has introduced a small new piece to the puzzle, creating this truly interesting mythology based on these very divergent pieces from very different films and creators. This film might be the biggest in exploring, adding pieces, and overall recontextualizing the Predator as a species and character. Some interesting new angles are introduced to make the mythos bigger. The Predators are being reframed from hunters with a slight sense of honor, to a traditional alien threat. Moving the franchise from smaller scale intimate films to a large massive space epic similar to Independence Day. A lot of the new mythos falls into needlessly explaining aspects that nobody wanted to know or audiences thought they knew (new explanation for why Predators take out spins and why they are attracted to warm climates).

The final scene of the movie teases what is to come in later films that will change the status quo and is so bonkers and awesome it feels like somebody read my 12-year-old self’s fan-fiction. ..or asked my dad what he would want to see. That having been said, every Predator film since the first one has tried to do a sequel set up with just the other films completely jettisoning them (hence one reason why the franchise has such a rich textured mythology because it is filled with plenty of new starts and abrupt stops). One has to wonder that unless this does well and they decide to keep making these movies, if this won’t all just be forgotten.

There were moments in The Predator that really shine through. The over the top action, the ambitious scope, and the cast chemistry make for an entertaining time. One would think I should be able to shut off my brain and just enjoy a Predator movie that gave me all the hardcore action I could want. I did for parts. Yet I can’t help escape something nagging at me and preventing me from completely enjoying it. Maybe the parts that work well highlight what doesn’t. It could be that as a fan I just want better for the franchise and for people to see it as more than just the original. What lies before you is a movie without a center. Trying to be everything at once yet unable to be what it really wants to be. Not awful by any definition, just adequate. It aimed big but sadly couldn’t entirely deliver. But it is still better than Predator 2, Aliens VS Predator: Requiem, and Prometheus, so that is something, right?