John McTiernan’s 1987 film is a science-fiction/action classic, a rumble in the jungle that pitted man’s finest specimens – with Arnold Schwarzenegger standing in as the pinnacle of human engineering – against outer space’s very own Ali: The Predator, the ultimate killing machine, kitted with the finest hardware and more than thirsty for a little blood sport.
With a number of sequels and spin-offs failing to quite capture that macho, musky masculinity of the original, this latest instalment, The Predator, hopes to return to that 80s tone with a more comedic take than its predecessors. Shane Black, the writer behind buddy cop gems such as Lethal Weapon and the 80s inspired The Nice Guys, directs this entry and seemed the perfect fit to inject some nostalgic baby oil into this franchise’s masculine veins. Sadly, Black and company have completely misfired like a rogue Predator cannon: The Predator is one ugly mother******.
Boyd Holbrook stars as Quinn McKenna, a paramilitary G.I. Joe type, who’s sniping operation goes awry following the unexpected arrival of an alien spacecraft carrying a deadly cargo aboard: a less than welcoming Predator. Procuring a couple of the Predator’s valued items for the sake of “evidence”, McKenna ships them off to a safe location before getting swiped up by a secretive sector of the government, led by Sterling K. Brown’s Will Traeger. McKenna’s autistic son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay), discovers these items, to the detriment of the local population: they inadvertently attract a new and improved breed of Predator, ready to hunt down and slaughter any and all who get in its way.
While it sounds like a gorier, more militarised version of E.T., The Predator lacks any of that film’s charm, coming off as more of a Frankenstein’s Monster: a combination of elements that shouldn’t go together, but are forcefully tied up into an unfortunate, ugly package that does more damage than good. Black has completely misinterpreted what fans of the franchise loved about the original and even its overlooked sequel.
Firstly, the humour feels wholly misplaced and misjudged. The Predator, as a concept, is a fascinatingly violent one, a creature that hunts for sport, peels the skin off its enemies, removes spines as trophies for display. McTiernan understood the terrifying qualities that a creature like that would bring to an action film, so utilised it as a means of ingeniously undercutting the machismo that the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger were known for. Instead, Black and fellow writer Fred Dekker undercut the Predator itself by focusing on quips and witticisms, thrown about by McKenna and his rag-tag team of mercenaries, as they make battle with the dreadlocked invader. One moment for example, following the introduction of a larger, more imposing Predator compared to our familiar friend, finds Black cutting to Keegan-Michael Key’s Coyle, who cracks ‘what the hell is that, is that like the male?’. There’s no menace felt, no chance for the threat to build: it’s simply a big dumb brute that the script laughs off.
That’s not to say that the original Predator avoided the occasional moment of levity: Arnie’s never going to resist an opportunity to drop a now famous one-liner. The issue is that Black positions so much of the plot and character around this comedy. Consider Thomas Jane’s Baxley: a military veteran suffering from Tourettes, Black and Dekker veer away from the chance to sow this disability into his narrative development, instead using it to bookend a number of gags that, while effective, do nothing to contribute to the story as a whole.
And what a story. With a script that might as well have been re-drafted by the toy box mind of an 8 year old during a break from filming, The Predator lacks any kind of coherence, flipping between expositional monologues and sequences of quippy dialogue, separated by Larry Fong’s dimly-lit, unassuredly shot sequences that fail to offer that immediate failsafe: that the action was at least satisfactory. Characters come and go at an alarming rate, their arrivals and (in some cases) deaths struggling to make any impact due to Black and Dekker’s comedic obsession.
The performances do little to solidify and decorate over the script’s weak foundations. Holbrook and Olivia Munn, here playing nerdy evolutionary biologist Dr Casey Brackett, stoically stumble through their lines like characters in a videogame. Jane, Key, Alfie Allen, Trevante Rhodes and Augusto Aguilera prove disposable compared to the iconic comrades of Predator: no one will remember Rhodes’ oblivious Nebraska Williams or Aguilera’s creepy Nettles, when compared to Arnie’s tenacious Dutch or Jesse Ventura’s trigger-happy Blain. And Sterling K. Brown feels like he was ripped out of an entirely separate movie: the kind of scenery-chewing, governmental villain that wishes it could match up to the likes found in Aliens, without any of that film’s focused direction.
There’s little innovation here, interpreted here as a need to make everything bigger and dafter. You want your mutant dogs? Here they are. You want your confused Predator motivations? Somehow, Black and Dekker manage it. You want weaponised autism? Yep, they go there, next year comes Black and Dekker’s ‘Forrest Pump Action Shotgun’. It’s a mess, an experimental mish-mash that drops the Independence Day: Resurgence ball on a beloved franchise: a film so out-there in terms of its ideas and construction, it forgets that an entertainment package such as this only needs to keep it simple, get the basics right, and build from there. As a result, The Predator is no trophy to hang in a Predator cabinet: it’s a killer blow to a beloved franchise that needs to rest in the further reaches of cinematic space.
Dir: Shane Black
Prd: John Davis
Scr: Shane Black, Fred Dekker
Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Jacob Tremblay, Trevante Rhodes, Sterling K. Brown, Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, Alfie Allen
DOP: Larry Fong
Editor: Harry B. Miller III, Billy Weber
Music: Henry Jackman