The Predator aims to revitalize the sci-fi action franchise with fresh ideas, but succeeds at delivering mindless action more than cohesive mythology.
More than thirty years after he met a grisly fate onscreen as the jokester Rick Hawkins in John McTiernan's 1987 film Predator, Shane Black returns to the property on the opposite side of the camera, as the director of The Predator. A soft reboot/sequel or "requel" to the three Predator films before it (not counting the two Alien vs. Predator crossovers), Black's movie offers a new beginning for the series after Nimród Antal's 2010 entry Predators tried to take the brand in a different direction, but failed to get a followup. Unfortunately, the end result here is a mixed bag that's hamstrung by clunky execution and a general messiness. The Predator aims to revitalize the sci-fi action franchise with fresh ideas, but succeeds at delivering mindless action more than cohesive mythology.
Black's film takes place in the present-day and begins shortly after a Predator spaceship comes crashing down into earth's atmosphere. When U.S. sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) encounters the ship's pilot during a mission in Mexico, the creature is quick to kill his men and nearly slaughters Quinn before he manages to stop it - thus allowing the U.S. government to capture the Predator, instead. Aware that his bosses will do whatever is needed to keep this incident under-wraps, Quinn secretly takes some of the Predator's equipment as leverage and mails it to his ex-wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski) and son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), the latter of whom's on the autism spectrum.
Later, during a post-mission "psych evaluation", Quinn admits to having encountered the Predator and is committed to a group of psychologically-damaged soldiers by Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), a government agent who knows all too well about the extraterrestrials' history on our planet. However, when the creature escapes from the clandestine research facility run by Traeger, it falls to Quinn, his newfound squad and a scientist named Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to handle the situation themselves. Meanwhile, back in the suburbs, Rory is able to activate the Predator's gadgetry and, in doing so, inadvertently summons something to our world that's far more dangerous than your average, run of the mill alien hunter...
There are very much shades of Black's previous work in The Predator, whether it's the main story about a ragtag group trying to save the earth (a la 1987's The Monster Squad, which Black also cowrote with Fred Dekker) or the subplot involving a larger government conspiracy to keep dangerous information hidden from the public (see Black's last movie, The Nice Guys). However, in addition to those narrative elements, The Predator attempts to cram in not only backstory details for its many human characters, but also a good deal of exposition concerning why these alien sport hunters keep returning to earth and what they are really trying to do. While there is some genuinely fascinating world-building here, the resulting film comes off feeling overstuffed and suffers from pacing issues. Moreover, The Predator feels like it was chopped down and condensed from a longer cut that flowed better, but was awkwardly compressed into a more streamlined (and shorter) blockbuster thrill ride bolstered by Black's trademark dark humor.
Story issues aside, though, The Predator certainly delivers the goods when it comes to bloody Predator-related mayhem. With the aid of sharp cinematography by Zack Snyder's frequent collaborator Larry Fong, Black serves up lots of R-rated violence, some inventive kills and otherwise unique set pieces and action sequences throughout the first two-thirds of the film. While the third act is rougher around the edges (no doubt because the movie's original third act was entirely reshot), The Predator still manages to deliver a climax that's noticeably different from any Predator installment before it and provides some important payoffs to character threads along the way. The film also offers its fair share of fan service and nods to Predator movies past - down to a rousing score by Henry Jackman (Kick-Ass, Kingsman) that successfully channels the spirit of Alan Silvestri's iconic Predator music - without (usually) being too ham-fisted about it.
With all the world-building and spectacle going on, The Predator is unsurprisingly hit or miss when it comes to developing its human players. The standouts here includes Brown as the film's human antagonist (a role he appears to relish) and Tremblay as yet another charmingly precocious young boy after his turns in Room and Wonder. Munn is similarly noteworthy here and further proves her action star bonafides as Dr. Bracket - a character who, frankly, could (should?) have served as the film's primary hero and main protagonist. Unfortunately, Bracket is often sidelined in order to make room for the more archetypical Predator movie (male) lead McKenna and a crew of stock sidekicks that includes Trevante Rhodes as "the unstable one", Keegan-Michael Key as "the funny one" and Thomas Jane as "the troubled one". While these characters benefit from being played by talented actors and do get simple-but-clean arcs, the other soldiers (as played by Alfie Allen and Augusto Aguilera) and Emily ultimately get the short end of the stick.
All in all, The Predator is the "biggest" Predator movie yet, but falls well short of being the best installment in the series. Whether it's the result of reshoots or merely being too big for its britches, Black's "requel" is muddled in execution and provides loads of brainless thrills while struggling in the story and character departments. Still, the Predator franchise has always offered a pulpy blend of action, sci-fi, cheesy jokes and (alien) monster horror, and Black's film smartly doesn't try to change things in that regard. Longtime fans may further appreciate how The Predator attempts to move the property forward without jettisoning its previously established lore on the way (see also: how it brings back the Hell-Hounds and features Jake Busey playing the son of his father Gary Busey's Predator 2 character).
Fox's decision to move The Predator to a mid-September release also makes sense, for related reasons. While the project would have struggled to go toe-to-toe with the better crafted franchise movies released this summer (as well as some of the tentpoles that hit the scene back in the spring), it's still a couple notches above the forgettable genre titles that are being "dumped" in theaters this month. That doesn't make The Predator a must-see by default, but the film's visuals do benefit from being experienced on the big screen (though an IMAX showing might be overkill) - and, in the end, anyone who just wants to watch Predators mowing down humans for almost two hours will mostly get their money's worth from this one.
The Predator is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 107 minutes long and is rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, and crude sexual references.
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- The Predator (2018) release date: Sep 14, 2018