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The Predator (2018)

DIRECTOR: Shane Black

CAST: Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, Augusto Aguilera, Alfie Allen, Yvonne Strahovski, Jake Busey

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL DISCUSS “SPOILERS”

Like the Alien franchise it has occasionally ill-advisedly crossed over with, Predator is one of those franchises that keeps limping along long past its expiration date.  One could argue that in fact Predator was never even much of a franchise to begin with.  1987’s original wasn’t any kind of great movie, and doesn’t hold up as a sci-fi thriller classic on the level of Alien or Aliens, but it featured Arnold Schwarzenegger at his most cigar-chomping and one-liner-spouting (“get to da choppa!”) front-and-center, surrounded by a merry band of macho men (with a cast including fellow future Governor Jesse Ventura, along with Carl “Apollo Creed” Weathers, Bill Duke, and Sonny Landham, it was sort of like a forerunner to The Expendables), and served up enough hardcore action with a sci-fi twist to be a popular “man’s movie” (the 1990 sequel, starring Danny Glover, wasn’t as good, although it had its moments).  After two crossovers dubbed Alien vs. Predator, the concept of which was dubious and the execution worse, Nimrod Antal and Robert Rodriguez tried to course correct by getting back to the basics with 2010’s Predators, which again had its moments but not enough to resurrect a “franchise” that arguably never warranted being stretched out into a film series in the first place.  And now, just when Predator seemed dead (again), along comes Shane Black (a cast member of the original movie but better-known as a screenwriter/director, including writing the Lethal Weapon series and directing such films as Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Nice Guys).  Alas, Black’s involvement with the original film does not signal a return to that quality level.  The Predator falls into the same category as the likes of Independence Day: Resurgence and Alien: Resurrection, a sloppy, uninspired, past-its-sell-date sequel that fails to breathe any fresh life into a series that has long since run dry.

Black does at least one thing most fans will approve of, by ignoring the existence of the Alien vs. Predator crossover films and acknowledging only the first two stand-alone films; alas he doesn’t replace them with anything of appreciatively higher quality.  We follow a generic template: big bad alien(s) comes to Earth, and it’s up to a ragtag band of quirky, mismatched underdogs to take them down.  Our merry men are led by elite army sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), who has a chance run-in with The Predator when its ship crashes in the forest and the occupant swiftly dispatches Quinn’s men.  Quinn himself manages to get away, with some of The Predator’s gear, no less, which he mails to his autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), to keep out of the hands of generic vaguely-identified sketchy government (?) man, Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), who’s got an underground base behind a dam that looks like he borrowed it from X-Men 2‘s Colonel Stryker and, like the bad guys in Aliens and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, wants to weaponize the Predators and their tech (or as well as I can figure from his poorly-defined character and motivations).  Meanwhile, Quinn falls in with a busload of soldiers with mental issues, dubbed The Loonies, including Trevante Rhodes, Augusto Aguilera, Thomas Jane, and Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones’ Theon “Reek” Greyjoy), and scientist Dr. Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn), with whom he is forced to join forces when a second, souped-up Predator arrives and wants its stuff back, which unfortunately is now in the hands of Quinn’s son.

The Predator feels like Shane Black tried to make a Shane Black campy action-comedy and then awkwardly shoehorned it into being a Predator movie, and it doesn’t work.  The movie throws in some gratuitous cartoonish gore but is disappointingly lacking in any suspense or tension—compare this to the first two films, which if nothing else, could boast those qualities—and everything is either underdeveloped or makes no sense.  If SPOILER WARNING the first Predator is trying to help mankind, why is it also slaughtering people willy nilly?  Why does the Predator dog suddenly start helping the humans?  The “autism as superpower” trope is also getting well played-out.  The characters are all one-liner machines who behave like campy movie characters who know they’re campy movie characters.  Like Alien: Resurrection, camp replaces horror, and while there are instances of effective humor, there’s also awkward, seemingly improv-heavy dialogue scenes that drag on too long (among other things, the movie could have used a tighter edit), and the emphasis on quirky action-comedy undercuts any attempts at tension.  It’s a choppy, poorly-edited hodgepodge of scenes slapped together with an uncertain tone.  Reportedly, the movie underwent extensive reshoots and studio interference, including a heavily-changed third act—wherein the movie tries to essentially reenact the first movie in ten minutes—and it shows.  Traeger is set up as the human “villain”, and then gets such a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it demise that less attentive viewers will be left confused what became of him (Edward James Olmos was originally cast as his boss, but ended up getting completely cut out of the movie).  Another character’s fate is left up in the air.  Jake Busey gets a small role as the son of his real-life father Gary Busey’s character from the second film, but never mentions his character’s father and disappears after about ten minutes, leaving one wondering what was even the point.

No one in the cast makes an especially impressive account of themselves, but they may be doing the best they can with their whiplashy material.  Boyd Holbrook, who seemed to be enjoying himself as the slimy henchman in last year’s Logan, seems equally right at home switching gears into a surly wisecracking action hero who bears a passing resemblance, personality-wise, to Lethal Weapon‘s Riggs.  His quirky sidekicks provide a little comic relief (like Jai Courtney in Suicide Squad, Thomas Jane as a Tourette’s-afflicted vet shows more personality here than one might typically expect from him), and Olivia Munn doesn’t strain credibility as a scientist who also gets to get in on the action, and the movie avoids any overt budding romance between she and Holbrook (one cliche dodged, I suppose).

One could argue there’s nothing more to do with the Predator “franchise” because the original at its core was basically a slasher movie with a sci-fi twist and the variation of pitting the slasher against a band of military hard-asses rather than screaming virginal teenagers.  The sequels have played within the confines of the limited concept by either repeating the beats of the original to greater or lesser degrees, indulging in a crossover cash grab, or now transplanting the Predators into a campy action flick.  None of these limited attempts at mixing things up have succeeded.  Like the Alien and Terminator franchises, this one should be allowed to rest.

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