Movie Review: The Predator
By: John Wright
The Predator franchise is an anomaly in modern Hollywood. It’s a beloved 80s sci-fi property with a loyal cult fanbase and a lot of background lore in comics and other media that somehow hasn’t left a parade of sequels, prequels, and spin-offs in its wake. I’d blame this mostly on the franchise not really having an overarching direction. Predator’s sci-fi peers such as the Alien franchise were able to go bigger and better with sequels; with the transition from the original Alien (1979) to Aliens(1986) trading Ridley Scott’s slow-boil horror for James Cameron’s big-budget shoot-em-up stylings and winning a dedicated fanbase for future sequels. This is where Predator (1987) runs into trouble, as its already a big budget shoot-em-up complete with Arnold Schwarzenegger playing an ostensibly American guy, one-liners aplenty, and Jesse Ventura not having time to bleed. Predator 2 (1990) swapped Arnie’s spec-ops backup dancers bumbling around the jungles of South America for Danny Glover and Gary Busey as tough LA cops and suffered for it. After this the franchise has mostly flown below the radar with the Alien vs Predator films best left forgotten, and the Robert Rodriguez-produced Predators (2010) impacting like a glass golf ball on the side of a tank.
However, that is not dead which can eternal lie, especially in Hollywood. With action movie legend and franchise vet Shane Black (Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys) at the helm and helping to pen the script, 20th Century Fox decided to have another crack reviving this ugly mothaf*cka with The Predator (2018)–a fun but flawed action-comedy romp that makes the most of its ensemble cast but ultimately can’t stick the landing.
The Predator sets itself up as a unifying sequel to the original and Predator 2, which does of course raise the question as to why this wasn’t called Predator 3. When Army Ranger sniper and macho-mcjarhead Quinn McKenna, played in an all-things-considered pretty solid leading man turn by Boyd Holbrook (Logan) encounters the titular extraterrestrial during a mission in Mexico and takes its iconic mask and wrist gauntlet, he does what any reasonable army dude would do and fed-exes the alien contraband to his family in good ol suburban America. From there McKenna hooks up with a band of military mental patients and Olivia Munn as the obligatory scientist to save his wife and son from the galaxy’s ultimate hunter and the equally obligatory cartoonishly evil shadowy government organization and we’re off to the races.
The action-comedy classification may be something of a surprise to you, as it certainly was to me. Shane Black’s Marvel Cinematic Universe experience shows through in our rag-tag cast with quips aplenty. Keegan Michael Key is expertly cast here as the loudest and most gregarious of the bunch but really everyone’s on their game here. Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight) is game to fill the Carl Weathers “black sidekick” role from the original, Thomas Jane somehow manages to make “the guy with Tourette’s” jokes funny in 2018, Augusto Aguilera does good cringe comedy as the guy convinced the end times are here, and it’s always nice to see Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones, John Wick). Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us) also deserves special mention for bringing a fresh spin to the well-trod territory of “the evil G-man with the horde of expendable army dudes” along with a few of the better lines in the movie. For those growing weary of “Marvel comedy,” I would say most of the jokes here are more similar in tone to Black’s earlier work on The Nice Guys (2016) and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005), mostly due to The Predator’swell-deserved R-rating.
Gore fans will be satisfied, as the blood starts flowing early and doesn’t stop, with a good mix of practical and computer effects and only a few egregious instances of obvious cgi goop. But even with buckets of blood I predict the comedy may do more to alienate longtime Predator fans than endear them to this new era for the franchise. As Rian Johnson found out with Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, injecting the dreaded “Marvel comedy” into a “serious” sci-fi property is a great way to get people with very strong opinions to yell at you on the internet.
This movie’s biggest failing, assuming you’re game for the comedy, is its third act, which comes off as at best rushed and at worst totally ancillary. It’s unclear how much of this is due to reshoots and how much was just flawed from the get-go, but the fact remains that there’s a definite point where I can almost hear someone just out of screen saying “come on, wrap it up, wrap it up, wrap it up.” I have a sneaking suspicion this final product is the result of Frankensteining together a serious, straight-faced Predator reboot starring Olivia Munn’s scientist and a wacky action-comedy Shane Black predator reboot starring the usual cadre of military meatheads, and that they simply tried to keep too many elements from both drafts in the final version.
I would be remiss to conclude this review without first mentioning the recent controversy surrounding its production wherein (and I am paraphrasing) Shane Black hired a friend of his to act in the film opposite Olivia Munn without informing Fox or Munn that he was a registered sex offender. The one scene he was in was hastily dropped and is not present in the theatrical release. Speculating as to possible consequences of this controversy would be irresponsible. Suffice it to say Shane Black has issued a statement denying that he was aware of his friend’s sex offender status before he offered him the role.
The last thing nagging me is this movie’s odd portrayal of mental illness. McKenna and his comrades regularly refer to themselves as “loonies,” but it’s a major plot point that McKenna’s son suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome. The interplay between cartoon craziness for the purposes of comedy and actual mental illness is… weird. This is emblematic of The Predator as a whole: a lot of discordant parts brushing up against each other and performing well enough to be pretty good but never pulling themselves together enough to go further than that.