The Predator never lives up to the definition of the word


Shane Black’s take on the 1987 creature feature has a stellar cast wasted by a trite story, bad CGI and forced attempts at humor.

In 1987, director John McTiernan unleashed a new type of creature feature onto the world with the action-adventure story, Predator. Heavily steeped in the machismo and patriotism of late ’80s action cinema, Predator breathed life into the dying monster movie genre and has had several attempts to continue the story or reboot it outright. It’s been eight years since the last attempt to tell a Predator story saw a big screen, and in many ways Shane Black’s latest attempt hearkens back to 2010’s Predators. Both feature a talented cast of performers you wouldn’t expect to see, but ultimately leave you wondering if the Predator franchise just doesn’t fit in 2018.

Like its first incarnation, The Predator is a rapid-fire, gung-ho actioner where men are men and women… are around. An intergalactic space battle sees a Predator ship crash-land on Earth, right in the middle of a hostage situation being overseen by top sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook). McKenna, determined to have evidence of his encounter with the alien, sends the Predator’s technology back to his home before he’s taken by the government, led by the shadowy Traeger (Sterling K. Brown).

There are several running plots within The Predator’s first half hour. Traeger isn’t just trying to find out what Quinn knows, he’s also elicited the help of scientist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to find out about the Predator they have in their lab. There’s also Quinn’s autistic son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay), who receives his dad’s box of Predator garb and deems it a perfectly worthy Halloween costume. Once Quinn is put on a bus as part of “group 2,” a cadre of mentally impaired and otherwise difficult soldiers, the die is cast for the Predator to inevitably escape his confines and start engaging in some good, old-fashioned murdering.

Anyone coming into The Predator wants to see the R-rated gore commonly associated with the 1987 original and here that’s retained, along with a healthy dose of Shane Black humor. It is this juxtaposition that doesn’t work 100 percent. To its credit, when the film allows the Predator to hunt and kill, it’s exciting. The CGI is atrocious, with fake blood being spewed and the camera cutting away before anything too terrible happens (or doing things in long-shot). Really, despite its R-rating, the violence feels tepid because the camera squeamishly avoids it. That being said, certain kills are inventive, like turning a man into a kebab or an inventive dual death with a person speared to a tree.

Black, who infamously had a supporting performance in the ’87 feature, creates a film that blends the Predator ethos with his love for quippy one-liners but when the humor really ramps up it’s at the expense of suspense or thrills. The gang on the bus all come with easily digestible issues that never threaten to become a problem in the group itself. Thomas Jane’s Baxley has Tourette’s, with a joke about oral sex that probably sounded funny on the page but is ridiculously uncomfortable in execution, with Olivia Munn’s disgusted face saying everything. Nettles (Augusto Aguilera) believes they’re in the “end times.” Trevante Rhodes’ Nebraska tried to kill himself, and Keegan-Michael Key’s Coyle tells jokes so apparently he’s crazy? The film has a bizarre way of integrating mental disabilities in this narrative, including Rory’s autism that leaves him as nothing more than a golden child Rain Man. Tremblay’s cute, but this character is beneath him.

The belief is that this rag-tag group of ex-soldiers are screw-ups, but this is all reliant on their one-note issues that never really jeopardize anything short of producing embarrassment — again, that Baxley moment is not funny. When the group gets involved in life or death situations, you’re never sad they died, instead sadder that they served no purpose than to lift up Holbrook’s utterly boring McKenna. Rhodes is an especially missed opportunity because in the few scenes he actually has to shine he’s fantastic and far more charismatic than Holbrook. Another equally compelling person is Sterling K. Brown’s Traeger. Brown is just living it up as the film’s villain, spitting out Black’s dialogue like it is poetry. His scenes opposite Tremblay are especially fun as he gleefully attempts to scare the child. Why he isn’t given the movie to run with is beyond me.

Currently Black is taking it in the shins after actress Olivia Munn revealed she compelled 20th Century Fox to fire an actor friend of the director’s who was a registered sex offender. It has led to some acrimonious interactions on the film’s press tour, but Black’s antipathy towards writing women is evident on-screen. Poor Olivia Munn is another wasted performer in this movie as Bracket. But worse than being useless is being the Snow White leading a group of dumb dwarfs. The men in the feature act like they’ve never seen a woman in their lives, standing in a line in front of her that’s meant to invoke humor but is creepy as can be. Much of this seems to be Black’s attempt at saying women are too sensitive. Munn’s character suffers all manner of indignities from having to be naked in order to escape the Predator to being told by McKenna to watch his kid. In fact, the film seems to create more terror over a woman holding a gun, with men fleeing at the sight of Munn wielding a weapon which we see — again, apparently meant to be funny — she can’t shoot.

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Audiences raised on the original Predator won’t get much from this iteration. The Predator is a plodding hour and 47-minute narrative that does little more than set itself up for a sequel with a basic leading man who lacks the charisma or memorability of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The creature feature equivalent of white bread.