Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Shane Black
Writer: Fred Dekker, Shane Black
Producer: John Davis
Stars: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Sterling K. Brown, Augusto Aguilera, Jake Busey, Yvonne Strahovski
A team of unstable military men battles government agents over a boy who holds the key to defeating deadly alien predators.
The following harsh words for “The Predator” can be found by browsing single-sentence review summaries on Metacritic. Miserable. Messy. Underdeveloped. Chaotic. Convoluted. Silly. Senseless. Forgettable. Boring.
Seeing the movie for myself, and enjoying it far more than I was led to believe possible, sparks a curious question I’d pose to people using the adjectives above. What exactly does anyone want out of a Predator movie that this film doesn’t deliver?
Here are some alternative terms. Alien spaceships. Fierce chases. Flashy firefights. Big guns. Bigger explosions. Bloody deaths and violent decapitations. Beer-swilling military men making comedic quips while combating monsters. If you think “The Predator” isn’t in line with precisely the sort of style that fits the franchise, perhaps it’s been awhile since you revisited the Arnold Schwarzenegger original.
Some things you won’t find are any excruciatingly belabored backstories like those seen in the coma-causing “Alien vs. Predator” duology. “The Predator” almost literally hits the ground running as an interplanetary pursuit immediately ends with one of the titular creatures crash-landing in Mexico while an Army sniper delivers headshots to hostage-taking drug dealers. “The Predator” simply stomps in confidently and says, “here’s the monster, here’s the setup, let’s get right to it.”
Said sniper is Quinn, a downgraded Dutch whose investigation of escape pod wreckage lights an opportunistic idea bulb over his head. Looking to outwit the government goons he knows are in hot pursuit to hush-hush the alien encounter, Quinn quickly mails a snazzy predator helmet and gauntlet to an address back in the states.
The ill-gotten goods mistakenly go to Rory, Quinn’s young son whose gifted intellect plays on a seesaw with Asperger syndrome. Rory’s interest in the alien tech inadvertently activates a beacon that summons a second, more menacing predator to collect whatever contraband the first predator stole.
Quinn faces pressing problems on his end. Traeger, who leads those gov’t goons alluded to earlier, sets up Quinn to be the fall guy in a cover-up for the crash. Quinn ends up imprisoned on a bus of other problematic military vets on their way to be similarly disappeared. Together, these “loonies” make perfect patsies. But their neurotic tics, nonchalance, and devil may care attitudes give them the right match of craziness, charisma, and chutzpah to become a ragtag platoon. Their escape turns into a rescue mission before changing again into a seek-and-destroy operation to prevent the predator from killing Quinn’s kid, and everyone else too.
“The Predator’s” recipe begins with its 1987 roots. Then it stirs in plentiful pinches of “Dirty Dozen” grit, summer blockbuster showmanship, impressive A-movie actors in B-movie roles, irreverent humor that’s not above “your momma” jokes, even a vulnerable boy in ever-present danger for viewers to vicariously live through. It’s basically a pure potpourri of every essential element that adds up to unfiltered escapist entertainment.
The plot’s pot boils over with the comic book brand of adrenalized machismo that many action movies left behind before jam bands became popular. For better as well as for worse, “The Predator” remains unapologetically indifferent to contemporary conventions of 21st century decency. Instead, it’s brazenly brash, and in some cases backward, about its presentation of gender roles, alpha male archetypes, and throwback thrills. More bluntly, “The Predator” embodies the kind of flippantly smirking flick that would anchor any weekend night lineup if Spike TV were still a thing.
To that end, a guilty verdict would be rapidly rendered for any charge regarding the film’s easily earned “man’s man movie” moniker. Excellent actresses Olivia Munn and Yvonne Strahovski see their extensive talents smothered in window dressing roles whose purposes are to facilitate plot movement for the main men. Link that to co-writer/director Shane Black’s trademark tone of barbed wire writing unafraid of the word “retard” or using autism as a storytelling tool and you’ve got some potentially problematic chauvinism and insensitivity dirtying the drink.
Even in turning a blind eye and accepting such material as having an intentionally retro ‘80s tone, “The Predator” still has a consistency concern with its last act. The film somewhat infamously went through well-documented reshoots and reedits that cut a lot of content while reconfiguring the climax.
Edward James Olmos appeared in an early cut as a presumably prominent military general. So did a pair of “Emissary Predators” who fought alongside the humans while wearing camouflage clothes. And let’s only cursorily mention Shane Black’s friend whose appearance created a controversy that Olivia Munn publicly brought to light. The fact that you can’t even pinpoint where these snipped scenes originally were either validates accusations of storyline incoherence or speaks to how well Black streamlined “The Predator” to eliminate fluff.
Then there are the alternate endings. The original script had Dutch reappearing to lead survivors into a sequel, but Schwarzenegger declined to come aboard for a mere cameo. Three “Alien” related options were on the table too, with at least one having been filmed that featured Ellen Ripley emerging as the cargo that the predators fight over.
Any of those ideas would have been infinitely preferable to the stale stinger that limps the last two minutes into end credits. Learning nothing from how Marvel movies string their fans to the next chapter with enticing mid and post-credits codas, “The Predator” leaves audiences with a lingering taste that doesn’t even entice fans of this film to eagerly froth for a follow-up like any of the “almost happened” callbacks would have done.
In defiance of its drawbacks, dominantly loaded onto clunky last act dips, “The Predator” works as well as it conceivably could considering how the conclusion had to be shredded to pieces and rebuilt. Some of the CGI gets shockingly sloppy for a big budget studio film. And only a lack of coverage can explain the editing room rush job that makes missing important moments like Traeger’s final fate a consequence of blinking.
But the balance struck by the significant weight of Sterling K. Brown playing a distinctly Sterling K. Brown villain, Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Jane doing similar shtick to round out their rivalry with panache, and high voltage energy behind consistent carnage keep up the heat with more sizzle than fizzle. If your gear isn’t set to soak up stylized slaughter with whirling dervish intensity, you’re taking “The Predator” more rigidly than it intends.
Review Score: 75