On the whole, the Predator franchise has an up and down history. The original is beloved (and famous now for featuring two US governors among the cast) while the sequel has interesting ideas but problematic racial elements. Depending on your canonical preferences the AvP films are either silly fun or offensive cash grabs. Finally, 2010’s Predators attempts to reboot the whole affair, but didn’t quite work.
Which brings us to Shane Black’s attempt to give the galaxy’s most dangerous hunter a new lease on life with The Predator. The new film disavows all but the original two films to tell the story of a team of misfits who band together to tackle not just one Predator, but a new suped-up hybrid (and his Predator dogs). Oh – and there’s a Mary Sue child who is on the spectrum and Olivia Munn thrown in for good measure.
If you follow the trades, the news of reshoots, botched marketing campaigns and a recent edit to remove a convicted sexual offender friend of Black’s might sound the alarm of a troubled production. Hopeful fans need not worry too much: the final cut of the film doesn’t reflect a project in peril so much as a very traditional “by the books” Hollywood blockbuster, which in 2018 may be its own cause for alarm.
Ardent Black fans will undoubtedly find plenty to like about the new film. The Predator opens in Mexico with a botched mission that leaves skilled military sniper McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) the sole survivor and in possession of the Predator helmet and glove. The crash site is quickly swept under the rug by government scientist Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and McKenna is set up to take the fall to ensure he remains quiet about what he saw. When his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) activates the helmet McKenna covertly mailed home, however, it initiates a chain of events that brings Traeger, the Predator and a newly introduced bounty hunter Predator down on McKenna’s sleepy town.
Shane and co-writer Fred Dekker keep things moving along at a speedy clip, offsetting the deluge of expository dialogue with regular action sequences. Their other contribution is a boatload of supporting comedy characters in the form of McKenna’s makeshift team, which includes crass comedian Coyle (Keegan Michael-Key), Tourette’s afflicted Baxley (Thomas Jane), pilot Lynch (Alfie Allen), creepy/cute Nettles (Augusta Aguilera) and suicidal leader Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes).
These men become the mouthpiece for Black’s trademark crude and witty dialogue, which vacillates somewhere between “your mother” jokes and using the R-word to describe McKenna’s son. It’s unclear if Black and Dekker (heh heh) were aiming for 80s action movie nostalgia with their underwhelming dialogue and rah-rah machismo, but the vast majority of The Predator, unfortunately, lands uncomfortably close to dude-bro territory.
Thankfully the action makes up a lot of the shortcomings. The opening sequence is adequate, but things really get cooking when the Predator unexpectedly awakens at Traeger’s top secret Project Stargazer base. The ensuing death and destruction is glorious to behold as Black leans hardcore into his R rating and paints the white facility walls red. Later in the film, a battle at the local schoolyard finds creative ways to continually raise the stakes. By the time the action moves to a rock quarry and into the woods for the extended final battle, however, exhaustion and ennui have begun to set in. Even the wanton destruction of an entire army of red shirts can’t help to keep the film’s energy from flagging as action sequence begets action sequence endlessly.
Sadly the action alone can’t save the film. Black and Dekker pack the 2hr+ film with far too many conflicts. When the film unites the humans against the new super Predator, it works. When the focus shifts to the petty in-fighting between McKenna and Traeger or the narrative cuts back to Yvonne Strahovski’s Emily (playing McKenna’s estranged wife in a thankless role), The Predator feels clunky and ill-paced. Throw in Black’s near misogynistic use of female characters, including a completely unnecessary scene involving a naked Munn, and there’s a lot to criticize.
The Predator will undoubtedly appeal to fans of the original films, as well as purveyors of Shane Black’s oeuvre. As for whether this new film has the capacity to re-launch the franchise (which the tacked on coda clearly aims to do)? Unclear. The troubled reports from set and inevitable “bad to meh” reviews certainly won’t help recruit new audiences. But hey: at least we got Predator dogs!