‘The Predator’ Review: The Hunt Has Devolved
I assume the script for The Predator was written with an ending, but it’s hard to tell from the finished film.
The movie, co-written by its director, Shane Black, carefully establishes its cast — primarily a group of mentally-ill veterans affectionately referred to as “The Loonies” — and pits them against multiple Predator aliens trying to kill each other. Then, just as the battle between the Loonies and the Predators begins, the whole thing falls apart. The violence gets messy and confusing. Subplots are abandoned. Footage from what must be reshoots doesn’t match the rest of the visuals. The action stumbles through multiple conclusions. Beloved characters are killed suddenly in ways that don’t make sense. In fact, sitting here right now, I couldn’t tell you how one of the heroes bit the dust, even though I watched it happen with my own eyes. I’ve asked every person I know who’s seen the movie to explain this moment to me. No one can do it.
That is not the only baffling part of The Predator. A lot of this movie left me scratching my head. Besides some pointed questions about the characters and their motivations, here is my biggest one: How did Shane Black, a gifted genre filmmaker (first as a writer of movies like Lethal Weapon and more recently as the director of things like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys), manage to make a Predator movie that’s not scary or exciting?
Black’s personal stamp is all over The Predator’s bantering dialogue. Then, when the exposition gives way to the big action sequences — which are choppy and lifeless and drenched in bad CGI — his voice vanishes, like he was replaced in the editing room by a hack. This should be the perfect match of filmmaker and material. Somewhere along the way, something went drastically wrong.
At least the setup is fun. Once again, a Predator alien returns to Earth; this time crashing its ship right into the middle of a rescue mission led by an elite military sniper named Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook). Everyone in McKenna’s unit is wiped out; he survives to find some of the Predator’s technology, including its wrist cannon and mask. Convinced he’ll need evidence to prove his crazy story, he mails the alien gadgets to himself.
McKenna is captured and tossed onto a bus transporting the Loonies. There’s Nebraska (Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes) who tried to shoot a commanding officer, Baxley (Thomas Jane), a vet with Tourette syndrome, Lynch (Alfie Allen) who’s defining characteristic is he’s British, Nettles (Augusto Aguilera) who has a knack for awkward conversation, and Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key) who constantly cracks inappropriate jokes because he’s in a Shane Black movie. The Predator specimen that McKenna found breaks out of captivity and goes hunting for the technology the sniper took from him — which just arrived at McKenna’s ex-wife’s house, where his autistic son (Jacob Tremblay) is playing with it.
This is already a pretty substantial group of main characters for a 100-minute movie — so hey, why not some more? Olivia Munn plays Casey, a biologist recruited by a government agent named Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) to analyze the Predator. As luck would have it, Casey also happens to be an experienced marksman, survivalist, and hunter, skills that come in handy after the Predator busts out. In short order she hooks up with the Loonies to save McKenna’s son and stop the aliens.
Although his screen time is pretty minimal, Brown emerges as The Predator’s star. Constantly chewing gum, dismissively barking orders at everyone around him, and punctuating his own jokes with a quirky laugh, Brown brings anarchic energy to a movie that often feels rote when he’s not around. He also provides a very convincing explanation for why the alien is called “The Predator” even though he’s much more of a sport hunter. Brown doesn’t have much to do, and I’m still not entirely sure what he wants from the Predator or why. Still, he’s a far more distinctive presence than Holbrook, who doesn’t have the charisma to rate with previous Predator heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Glover.
30 years after the first film, The Predator updates the title character’s look (first created by Stan Winston) with sleaker armor and weaponry, and introduces a bigger, meaner Predator (he still has dreadlocks) and a pack of Predator Dogs who are equally ferocious (and equally dreadlocked). For all the technical innovations, though, The Predator can’t hold a candle to the original, which had a simple, perfect premise powered by the directorial craftsmanship of John McTiernan and the star power of Schwarzenegger. The Predator doesn’t really continue Predator’s story so much as it is shackled to it. Black (who appeared in a small role in the original movie) pauses frequently for callbacks and references to the 1987 Predator and generally apes its structure (group of skilled military men encounter an even-more-skilled foe, lots of scenes in jungles and forests, a big group of heroes slowly whittled down one by own). Sadly, he never matches its dynamic visuals or genuine sense of danger.
As is so often the case these days with decades-later sequels, the endless callbacks and remixed elements just serve to show how inferior the new film is to the production that inspired it. The Predator gets off to a promising start, and there are a couple of memorable flashes Black’s verbal wit. Then the action kicks in and the film gets worse and worse. The very last scene, a bizarrely long epilogue set after the main conflict has been resolved, is atrocious, and it sets up a sequel absolutely no one will want. The tagline of The Predator is “The Hunt Has Evolved.” But in so many ways, this feels like a step backwards.