Synopsis – When a young boy accidentally triggers the universe’s most lethal hunters’ return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race.
My Take – As we keenly await the return of Michael Myers in director David Gordon Green‘s modern revival, another iconic movie franchise heads its way into theaters. The Predator franchise has seen a tumultuous journey to director Black‘s latest installment, with the original retaining its reputation as the best. The 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger led film till date remains an undeniable cult classic, still remembered for its bold style, endlessly quotable script and occasional preposterous, while its 1990 sequel, not so much. Much like the Alien franchise, this series too, despite great beginnings, went downhill, with the cross-pollination AvP films ultimately a bad decision that condemned both franchises to PG-13 territory, something even the ostensibly R-rated sequel couldn’t really rectify.
While the Robert Rodriguez produced 2010 film redressed the balance somewhat, by providing a much more satisfying sequel, it didn’t right all wrongs, and was never enough to reignite interest in the franchise. Understandably expectations were high when a writer-director like Shane Black, who also co-starred in the original 1987 movie took up the challenge to bring life into the much dead franchise, with his signature brand of black humor and the original’s blend of gory violence. But amidst talks of an increasingly messy production, and the controversy regarding the casting of a sex offender in the film, it’s still difficult to understand how a Hollywood veteran like Black could screw up so horribly.
The film really isn’t worth anyone’s time or money, while hardcore fans may find some things to enjoy others will be left scratching their heads. While the practical effects and action sequences are fun at a glance and helped in keeping things moving, it just couldn’t make up for its shortcomings, with its single biggest and utterly insurmountable flaw being its incoherent editing. I get it the film delivers a good time without demanding that we think too hard about anything, but the fallout just goes to show how some of us don’t think things through well enough.
Set in the present day, years after the events of the first two films, the story follows Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), an ex-U.S. Army sniper turned mercenary-for-hire, who during an assignment in the Mexican jungle, witnesses the crashing of a predator ship, and ends up becoming the only survivor from his crew following their encounter with the pilot predator of the ship. But before the spooks of the US government’s Operation Stargazer, led by Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), can move in to capture the Predator and perform cleanup on the area, McKenna manages to mail the Predator’s mask and gauntlet he purloined from the crash site as an insurance policy to his mail address back in the U.S. which gets forwarded to the home of his estranged wife, Emily (Yvonne Strahovski), and his autistic son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay).
At the same time, a Biologist named Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), is brought to a secret locale where she gets an up close encounter with the ship’s pilot in captivity and learns that a government organization has been tracking the visitors and that their visits have increased in recent years. Unfortunately for them Rory’s accidentally activates a beacon which signals a genetically-modified Predator, to come to Earth in search of the captured one and his gear. Not surprisingly, the Predator regains consciousness and proceeds to wreak havoc in the lab, and in the ensuing melee, Casey will form an uneasy alliance with Quinn and a raucous crew of PTSD-unhinged soldiers (Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera and Thomas Jane) into lead into a series of brutal encounters, with unhinged soldiers being humanities last hope against the otherworldly guests.
This synopsis is about as simply as the premise of the plot can be explained because elaboration only makes the flimsy script co-written by Black and his friend Fred Dekker fall mercilessly apart. While whether out of design or coincidence, director Black buys himself some goodwill at the start with an opening sequence set in the jungle that is clearly meant as tribute to John McTiernan‘s original, yet by the end, the overall film feels haphazard, like it’s careening wildly down the street, shouting information at you and hoping you can keep up, all thanks to its awkwardly edited leaps of logic. But the biggest shortfall is the script itself, which is normally where director Black has always shined. For every cool little idea or image he comes up with like a kid going trick or treating in a Predator mask, or the grisly end of two best buddies who run afoul of the Predator, there are so many others that feel like they were thrown in arbitrarily, in distracting ways.
It often feels like a bunch of scenes, and a bunch of snippets of dialogue he thought would be cool, thrown into a mix and shot at random, then edited together at a breakneck pace in an attempt to cover up the massive narrative gaps. I get it, even the tightest script and most edited film is bound to have a plot hole here or there, but here the film has holes that rocks could fall into. Explanations are continually doled out, but the information and viewpoints provided are either irrelevant and confusing, or offensive to people on the Autism spectrum. It’s certainly one thing to tweak or alter the established lore of a franchise and another to completely change it. Here, director Shane Black and Dekker have effectively altered the established lore and mythology of the franchise by basically throwing out the baby with the bathwater. All the attempts at explaining or expanding on the Predator race or backstory are asinine and nonsensical.
This is despite the fact that this movie is in fact a chronological sequel to the first two film, the change in lore makes absolutely no sense. What the fugitive Predator does in the story runs contradictory to its supposed mission. The movie also often suffers from its overly abundant plot and characters, getting wobbly particularly in its back half as the focus spins out of control. Though more characters also mean more bodies to be filleted, and let’s face it, more bloodied fun, but whenever director Black loses his grip on franchise movie making, he falls back on self-aware zingers, always keeping things light, never taking it too seriously.
The biggest fail here in characterization is the female lead, biologist Casey Bracket, who is curious and headstrong as she is thrown into this absurd situation. We only get a few lines of backstory from her, none of which indicate that she’s firearm-trained, but she runs immediately towards action fully armed. It’s a shame that the film puts her through not one, but two decontamination scenes that have her strip naked for no good reason—one of these scenes being shared with Gary Busey‘s son, of all people. Also the movie’s run-time is incoherent, it seems everything was sacrificed in service of pacing, which is undoubtedly fast and very brisk, but as a result, there are some incredibly awkward and confusing scene transitions.
In one sequence, McKenna is freely walking around, likely south of the border. The next time he’s seen, he’s imprisoned by government spooks in what’s likely a Southern Californian VA facility and being interrogated. In one scene, the Loonies are escaping on a bunch of motorcycle. In another they suddenly have a decked out RV and are loaded to the teeth with automatic weaponry. In one scene, Bracket is working for Stargazer and in pursuit to help them. In the next, Traeger is ordering her to be cleansed for no reason. Even the action sequences, which you’d think would have had the most care in a film like this one, were incomprehensible. With constant cutting, none of the action scenes had a good rhythm to them. There were moments where important characters would die, and I wouldn’t even realize it by how piss-poor the editing was.
It certainly didn’t help that some of the CGI was laughable, especially during moments where Predator characters are right next to humans. Even more depressing is director Black‘s apparent tone-deafness in mixing action and comedy, so much so that the latter often ends up diminishing the very impact of the former; after all, you cannot quite take a lethal Predator seriously enough when the characters seem more concerned with spewing rat-a-tat quips at one another than taking out the alien(s) right in front of them. Director Black‘s singular preoccupation seems to be coming up with a string of killer one-liners that his bunch of misfits can roll off the tongue in the form of smart-aleck remarks laced with sexism and non-PC jibes. Admittedly, some lines like Will describing the Predators as ‘large, fast, and f**king you up is their idea of tourism’ is amusing, but others that make fun of conditions like Tourette syndrome (such as a scene where Jane‘s character shouts ‘eat your pussy’ at Casey) are tasteless or worse offensive.
Yes, Boyd Holbrook is a solid actor, but he’s out of his element as team leader going head to head with a Predator and the script does him no favors by declaring him a highly effective government asset one minute and having that same government write him off the next. Olivia Munn throws herself into the scientist role but can’t help but come off as the weak link. Sterling K. Brown has a healthy amount of fun with his character, while Keagan-Michael Key works overtime to steal the show, succeeding on many occasions. Indeed Thomas Jane struggles with a poorly written character who elicits a couple of the best laughs but is still an inexplicable addition, with Game of Thrones‘ Alfie Allen wisely keeping his head down but ending up forgotten as a result, and Augusto Aguilera struggles to hit anything even approaching consistent with respect to his odd character. Yvonne Strahovski is barely even a character as Rory’s neglectful, hipster painter mother, Emily. Jake Busey makes a cameo as Sean Keyes, the son of Peter Keyes, the character played by his father Gary in Predator 2. On the whole, ‘The Predator’ is yet another disappointing entry to a dead franchise, led by its questionable CG effects, flat one-liners and its utterly incoherent editing.
Directed – Shane Black
Rated – R
Run Time – 107 minutes