Review: The Predator
Designed by Stan Winston, Predators are a beautiful enigma. With a tribal design that seems at home with a jungle, but armed to the hilt with hi-tech gadgets and a sleek mask that’s out of this world, they command so much presence with such little effort. In appearance alone, Predators are the definition of badass and with their camouflaging technology, they’re even cooler when you don’t see them at all. This alien race of intergalactic trophy hunters has appeared in six films thus far, each giving us only a nugget of information about them. But like many cool villains, the more we find out, the less interesting they become. Now we have arrived at the sixth film in the series and we are at that point that curses many sci-fi/horror franchises, the point where it becomes self-parody and the filmmakers are just throwing us any absurd idea that damn well pops into their head.
Directed by Shane Black (The Nice Guys) and written by Fred Dekker (The Monster Squad), The Predator opens with two Predator ships duking it out in the cosmos before one crash lands on Earth. Witnessing the crash is an Army sniper, Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, Logan), who is on assignment with his unit. After his team is killed and the rogue Predator is temporarily defeated, a convoy of government spooks, led by Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown, Black Panther), snatch it up as a live specimen for their secret military base. We soon learn that Traeger a) knows as much as the audience does about Predators, if not more, and b) can’t be trusted, because, you know, he’s a shady government agent with a habit of handing out kill orders as if they were business cards.
After waking up and racking up quite the body count, we discover that, believe it or not, this renegade Predator is on our side and its ship carries a special mystery box that will somehow help our world defeat their alien race for good. But there’s more! Not only is there an 11ft Predator (aptly named the Ultimate Predator) hunting this would-be good guy Predator, but the species is also genetically modifying themselves. Apparently, the ability to hunt us using a state of the art invisibility cloak just isn’t good enough.
In an attempt to keep things fresh and make it seem like the sequels aren’t merely repeating the original film over and over again, the filmmakers have always changed the environment, sending us from Los Angeles to strange alien planets. This time around, we are raced through a plethora of locales, including a small football field, a farm out in the middle of nowhere, a suburban residence, and even a school. Admittedly, seeing Predators lurk about commonplace settings feels a little odd and, dare I say, it diminishes their on-screen presence.
The Predator has all the ingredients to be a solid action sequel. The film is an unapologetically gory, hard R revival helmed by a solid action director, with a lively cast of actors that also includes Travante Rhodes (Moonlight), Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele), Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse), and even Jake Busey (The Frighteners) as the son of his father’s character, Peter Keyes, from Predator 2. To top it off, the film takes place on Halloween. If you are going to partially set a Predator movie in a subdivision, that would be the night to set it.
The end result, however, is a meandering action film that puts so much focus on humor, outrageous twists, run of the mill gimmicks, and other weird attempts at word building that it neglects what made the original film so successful.
1987’s Predator is a film that has your attention completely from start to finish, and why not? It’s genuine, focused, always keeps its eye on target, never ironic, never ashamed to be a preposterous, but straight-faced movie, and the characters are macho, larger than life, but never overstay their welcome. Hell, it’s not just a good Predator movie, it’s a solid action film.
The opposite is true for The Predator. It’s an uneven experience that’s also preposterous, but unlike the first film, it is played intentionally as preposterous, which makes it all the more silly. It seems that in fear of taking things too seriously, the film doesn’t take things seriously enough. It is littered with ironic yet cringe-inducing dialogue, and crass humor that isn’t funny, including mental health jokes that are, frankly, just plain cheap and death scenes that are rendered ineffective because they are so comical.
Though it remains reverential to the films that came before, the references are often farcical. In one scene, a character says “Let’s get to the choppers!” before running towards a bunch of motorcycles. At another point, Casey Bracket (Munn) calls the Predator “one beautiful motherfucker,” which is supposed to give us fond memories of Schwarzenegger’s “motherfucker” line. It does, but it also takes you out of the film.
This goes double for the film’s hero. Quinn is a very disappointing lead. He’s glib, snarky, a constant source of forcibly ironic one-liners that never seem to land, and in any other film, he’d be the first one to die. With little effort made in making us want to like this guy and in an environment already occupied by potentially better stars (including the more obvious choice, The Punisher’s Thomas Jane), Quinn isn’t a very interesting opponent for the Predator. This makes this film’s attempt to shoehorn him as the hero that’s here to stay a little underwhelming to say the least.
As with a number of franchises, the Predator films have now fallen completely into camp, deconstructing the mythos in the name of fun and as a result, the villains no longer pose a serious threat. The original Predator is a fun movie, but not because it tries to be just fun. It has an absurd plot, but it takes itself seriously enough for the events in the film to be suspenseful and as a result, it is fun because it’s thrilling. In other words, it just tries to be a good movie. Sometimes films need to be genuine, even if they are absurd, and trust that the audience will have a good time without having a good time crammed down their throats. That’s a lesson that isn’t carried over into The Predator. It tries so hard to be only be fun and the attempt is admirable, but, I’m afraid to say, it is neither genuine nor thrilling.