A Shane Black Predator movie. It sounded like a downright brilliant pairing but in the end, The Predator is just a film teasing what could have been. There are sparks of Black’s humor and style lining up with the brutality and bite of the 1987 original quite well, but they are few and far between because the end product feels misguided, and like it’s been sliced and diced to the point of semi-incoherence.
The movie kicks off with a Predator ship crash landing on earth. The pilot of that ship goes head to head with solider Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) and his men, an altercation that concludes with McKenna walking away with some Predator tech. When Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and his division of the government get ahold of this intel, they send McKenna off to a military prison – but not before he ships off that Predator tech to his young son Rory (Jacob Tremblay).
This puts The Predator on three paths for a good portion of the film: you’ve got McKenna and the veterans of “Group 2” (their group therapy number), Rory and his new tech, and Traeger doing everything he can to track down that crashed alien ship. Each section has potential, whether it’s a character that makes an impression or intriguing plot points, but ultimately it’s all a wash because The Predator is one gigantic and extremely messy mixed bag.
The storyline that falls flat on its face the worst is the government agenda. The Predator flies forward and that extremely quick pace helps and hurts. Sometimes it does make it easier to brush off absurdities, but it’s at the expense of a cohesive story. For example, the little things include an RV that appears out of nowhere, but then there are more glaring issues, like significant chunks of the narrative that are just missing. That problem hurts this government element more than anything because it’s so heavily focused on compiling old and new information regarding the Predator race, how they’re adapting and how humans need to address the situation. It also doesn’t help that Traeger is a cartoonish villain. He’s chock-full of obnoxious antagonistic dialogue, chomps on candy constantly and has no problem dropping an excessive amount of F-bombs in front of little Rory.
Rory, however, is a mildly curious character. He’s on the autism spectrum and runs into some problems with bullies at school but Rory also happens to have a knack for decoding the alien tech. One of the qualities I’ve always loved so much about the original Predator is how you discover what the aliens are capable of right alongside Dutch and his team. Rory and his exploring offers up a little bit of that. The idea of someone making off with Predator tech is a winning concept on the surface. What would you do if you had the opportunity to take some alien goods home with you? Could you figure it out like Rory? How would you put it to use? But that’s about the extent of the ingenuity here because, one, most of the discoveries aren’t all that interesting and, two, the few that are, are mentioned and then inexplicably forgotten.
One of the most successful components of the film is our band of heroes. Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan Michael-Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen and Augusto Aguilera often make a delightfully irreverent crew. The jokes do tread into crass and tone-deaf territory, sometimes to the point of being offensive, but these guys do manage to coast on some serious charm and charisma. There’s one scene in particular with this group and Olivia Munn as Dr. Casey Brackett that takes place in a motel room that teases how good the combination of Shane Black’s style, sense of humor and the Predator series could have been.
As for Munn, it is nice to see her right in the thick of all the action but we can file this performance away in the unconvincing scientist drawer. And the script itself does her absolutely no favors. As the character trying to put the extraterrestrial pieces together, the aforementioned plot holes obliterate the value of most of her findings. There’s also one especially odd and bothersome choice to have her character strip down for a decontamination process while the Predator is attacking the lab without any justification whatsoever. And poor Yvonne Strahovski. She just winds up with a cookie cutter “wife” role, a major waste if you watched her shine in The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 this year.
The action in The Predator is fine. It isn’t particularly stylish or well shot, but the sequences have energy, some exciting beats and a touch of creative flair. However, in hindsight, when it comes to the action, the most memorable quality is the gore and violence because it’s so excessive. Yes, it’s a Predator movie and carnage was inevitable, but it’s the choice to linger on certain visuals and have so many trigger happy characters relishing in their kills that make the movie waver between getting a kick out of the wild action and being put off by it. And this is largely an issue for the human vs. human altercations in the movie, not the humans banding together to fight off the Predator, which is unfortunate because that’s when the movie comes closest to working – when it’s mankind vs. Predator, not mankind (McKenna and his team) vs. mankind (Traeger and his team).
The Predator is a disappointment for someone with their fingers crossed for a worthy Predator sequel, but where this new installment could find a home is in the outlandish alien action movie realm. That feels more like a backhanded compliment than anything, but it’s a quality that did keep me entertained from start to finish, and sent me on my way thinking it might be fun to catch it again with a group of friends and a big beer in my hand.