OnScreen Review: "The Predator"

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Ken Jones

  • Chief Film Critic

Released in 1987, Predator is one of the great action movies of the 80s. It’s light on plot and heavy on muscle-bound men holding high powered weaponry. It’s one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best movies. It has generated a few sequels, including two crossover movies with the Alien franchise, but the less we talk about those the better. A 2010 sequel, Predators, was actually better than most people expected. As Hollywood is always want to do, it has decided to produce another entry in this franchise in the form of The Predator, directed by Shane Black, an accomplished writer/director who strangely enough played Hawkins in the original film. Unfortunately, one of my favorite directors has made a film that is a massive misfire.

The film is set in the present day and is a continuation rather than a reboot of the franchise. It does try to follow a familiar blueprint that worked in previous Predator movies, but with a few additional layers added in. There is the standard rag tag group of misfits that are battling this deadly alien, a group of soldiers being bussed away with various issues related to PTSD (a group that features actors Keegan-Michael Key, Trevante Rhodes, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, and Augusto Aguilera). Thrown in with this motley crew is Boyd Holbrook’s Quinn McKenna, a sniper who encountered a Predator that crash-landed to earth in Latin America and ended up being the only member of his crew to survive. He also escaped with its helmet and a forearm gauntlet, which he mailed to himself back home.

The added layers are McKenna’s autistic son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay), who winds up with the package his father sent and mistakes it for a video game. The other is a government organization, led by Agent Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) that has been keeping track of the visits that these Predators have been making to earth, which have been happening with increased frequency since first occurring in 1987. Traeger and his men managed to capture and sedate the Predator that McKenna encountered, and bring in evolutionary biologist Dr. Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn) to study it. When the Predator gets loose, Dr. Brackett finds herself with McKenna, his team, and his son trying to evade a Predator and Traeger’s men.

There’s a lot of moving parts to all of this, but what is the underlying problem of the whole thing is that it attempts to create a Predator franchise mythology that explains the motivations of the Predators. And the reason, if you’re at all familiar with sci-fi and aliens, is incredibly familiar. In fact, if cheapens the Predator by giving it just another generic space alien backstory, it trades in the creature’s mystique for mythos. The movie gives in to the notion that everything has to be explained and quantified in today’s world; it’s not enough that these creatures are merciless intergalactic warriors. They have to have a reason why they are coming to Earth more frequently. They have to have a reason why they pull the skull and spine out of their kills beyond just being trophies. Sigh. Some things are better left to the imagination.

Sadly, the action and death on screen rarely matter; they’re spectacle for the sake of spectacle. In the original film, the team was methodically picked off one by one; some of them were bloody and messy but some of them occurred off-screen. In this film, Black and company just seem to be looking for creative ways to kill people off, only a few of which are all that entertaining. Some of the back and forth dialogue between the soldiers fighting with McKenna elicits a few laughs or has moments of poignancy. Some of the dialogue is also intended to be a callback to previous films as well. They’re clearing going for something along the lines of The Dirty Dozen with this crew, but the results are mixed. The cast is just an odd mixture. It seems to aiming for an ensemble feel, with Holbrook, Tremblay, and Munn the most prominent of said ensemble. But Holbrook doesn’t quite cut it as a leading man in this kind of film. It’s an ensemble movie that is lacking a true ensemble cast; the casting in this film never really clicks.

Most disappointingly to me, it falls into the “bigger is better” trap of the Predators “upgrading” themselves and a bigger, badder Predator showing up on the scene to wreak havoc. And then there is the issue of the Predator dogs, something apparently from Predators that I managed to block out of my memory. I cannot give a satisfactory reason why a Predator would need an animal to assist it in hunting its prey; it’s almost feels like Superman having guards at his Fortress of Solitude. And sadly, the tacked on ending feels very much of a piece with endings seen in Independence Day: Resurgence and Pacific Rim: Uprising, which is company that no movie should want to find itself in.

I had hoped that Shane Black would bring an interesting reinvention or sharp new angle to the Predator series of movies. Instead, what we’re treated to is a muddled mess. It’s hard to tell if there was too much studio meddling or if Black is just trying to put too much into this one movie. Either way, The Predator is just the latest example of how not everything should be a franchise.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars