The very first film in the Predator franchise, 1987’s Predator was more of a thriller than a full on action flick. A team of commandos stuck in the jungle are hunted by an alien warrior that kills for sport, and that alien stays out of sight for the majority of the film, building up suspense for a large and terrifying reveal. 1987 was a long time ago, and Predators, like so many other monsters from the 80s, no longer seem to frighten audiences much anymore. Shane Black (Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys), along with writer Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, The Monster Squad), are the latest filmmakers to take a wack at the franchise, and their solution is to have shooting, shooting, and more shooting.
When soldier Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) and his squad are ambushed by a rogue Predator in Central America, McKenna is the only survivor. In an incredibly irresponsible decision, he mails some of the wreckage from the Predator’s crashed ship back home to his wife (the outstanding Yvonne Strahovski, who’s talents are wasted here) and son (Jacob Tremblay) before government agents snatch him up, lead by a man called Traeger (Sterling K. Brown). Naturally, the Predator wants his stuff back, and it’s up to McKenna, his son, a ragtag crew of PTSD-rattled ex-soldiers, and a biology professor (Olivia Munn) to save the day. Something that helps The Predator is its relatively simple plot and stakes; the world isn’t going to end if they don’t stop the alien, and he’s only interested in taking back what’s his.
Shane Black films are known for their buddy-cop feel, slick wittiness and sharp humor, and The Predator is no exception. The group of ex-soldiers include the likes of Keegan-Michael Key (exactly one half of Key and Peele), Thomas Jane (Boogie Nights, The Mist, 1922) and an incredibly charming Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight, 12 Strong), and their rapid fire dialogue that bounces off each other as they hurl insults back and forth is a blast to watch. There are plenty of solid jokes throughout the film, such as a running gag about how Predators shouldn’t be called Predators because they’re more like big game hunters than anything. Truth to be told, the entire movie may have benefited from more self-awareness like that. That kind of fun campiness that doesn’t take itself too seriously might be what this franchise needs.
Unfortunately, things have to get serious eventually. Once the ball starts rolling, The Predator turns into nonstop action, with bullets flying in all directions. And it’s here that we run into the first problem. Too much of the action happens too quickly and violently, and it becomes difficult to discern what exactly is going on. It’s easy to lose track of who’s shooting what and where, who just got killed, who’s running off and where they are running to. Thankfully it’s not quite shaky cam, but it’s close enough to it. It isn’t until the film’s third act that things become a little clearer and easier to make out, but by that point you’ll be lucky if you’re not nursing a minor headache from all the noise and bright flashes of gunfire.
Adding on to The Predator‘s technical problems, the editing of the movie comes across like a bit of a mess. This is a movie that was torn apart and put back together time and time again during the editing process (the entire second half of the film apparently went through extensive cuts) and it shows. Sterling K. Brown walks up to a spaceship, by the time he’s at the door in the next shot he’s suddenly wearing sunglasses. Once the door opens and he steps inside, the sunglasses are gone again. Jacob Tremblay befriends a dog in the park, a gang of Predator dogs (yeah, those are in this movie) approach them and the regular dog has mysteriously disappeared, only to reappear a few minutes later. Cut to a reaction shot of Tremblay seeing his friend has returned from wherever he went, but then he’s rushed into a vehicle and the dog is never seen again. The Predator kills a bunch of scientists but spares Olivia Munn for some reason, a reason that you assume will be revealed later in the film, but it’s never brought back up ever again. There are several small mistakes like this, and they sadly add up and become more noticeable as the film progresses.
It wouldn’t be right to talk about this film without mentioning the controversy surrounding it regarding Black hiring his friend, who is a sex offender, for a small role. That role was for a man who hits on Olivia Munn during what we can assume is our introduction to her character, which is obviously in poor taste and only made worse by the fact that Munn was then hung out to dry by the studio and her fellow cast members during interviews regarding the incident. Fox removed the scene from the finished film and Black and the rest of the cast have since apologized, but the damage has been done. If anything, the whole situation only makes you a little more hyperaware of some of the other problematic things that remain in the movie.
Even without the sex offender’s small scene, Munn’s character is still treated poorly. She still gets hit on, Thomas Jane directs an incredibly vulgar sexual comment towards her, she’s continuously talked down to by the men in the film (despite her character being a brilliant scientist), she is told to shut up multiple times for laughs, and she gets slung over our hero’s back like a damsel in distress. All that, and the film finds an excuse to have her get naked not once but twice within about ten minutes. It’s not a good look, and Munn deserves a lot more, especially since her character is one of the more compelling. The only other woman in the film, Strahovski, doesn’t fare much better, existing in the film only to make a speech about how awesome her husband is. The inherent sexism seems more like ignorant carelessness than malicious intent (the film does give Munn several action beats), but it’s there nonetheless. Tremblay’s character is a child on the spectrum, and while the film portrays this in a tasteful enough way for the most part, it then shockingly uses the r-word for comedic purposes.
The Predator is definitely a mixed bag. When it’s having fun and ramping up the ridiculous violence while making wisecracks, it’s at its best. Sterling K. Brown is one of the only actors who seems to truly understand the kind of film this should be, and he, alongside Trevante Rhodes, steals the show, and the movie suffers whenever neither one of them is onscreen. Holbrook’s McKenna is simply too bland and even a bit unlikable of a protagonist, although the relationship with his son is strong enough that it doesn’t become too glaring of a problem. At the end of the day, The Predator doesn’t really seem to be about anything other than shooting as many bullets as possible at big monsters. A film doesn’t necessarily need to have deeper meaning to be good, and it’s fun enough, but when you toss shoddy editing and casual sexism into the mix, it becomes a bit of a loud, tedious mess.
2.5 / 5 Stars
The Predator is now playing in theaters everywhere.