I’m honestly impressed that Shane Black and 20th Century Fox fucked up The Predator this bad. Cast aside the easy question about whether or not we really needed another Predator movie in 2018 – on principle, a picture about a massive alien killer stalking and murdering human prey should at least be a gory fun time.
Instead, director/writer Black (The Nice Guys) lulls us into a deep sleep with his new take on the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger classic, which can’t stop and won’t stop taking this story down the lamest possible routes. I was this close to asking the Cinema God himself to send a Predator through the screen and put me out of my moviegoing misery.
Every thing that’s wrong with this picture is summed up in a small moment in the end, where ex-military sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) has the big bad Predator on the verge of defeat. He asks him “Who are you?”, but before the alien could respond with some gargle I couldn’t even pretend to care about, McKenna goes for the head shot, saying “Shut the fuck up” afterwards. It’s a moment where Black (who also co-wrote this film with Fred Dekker) could’ve explained the purpose of this advanced hunter and maybe delved into something deeper than your average Imagine Dragons song. Instead goes for the fake badass moment, presumably thinking it will result in cheers and laughs in the audience.
Much of The Predator is structured like a wanna-be crowd-pleaser; there’s sly references to the original (“We gotta get to the choppers!”, one character says in a nod to the famous Schwarzenegger line) and timely F-bombs. While the picture has an R-rating, the violence feels mostly sanded down to fit in with a studio-manded PG-13 summer blockbuster.
But there’s a heart missing from this picture, a reason for us to either care about the Predator’s mission or at least care about the humans he’s slaughtering. Black miscalculates by beginning the carnage early on (several soldiers are killed in Mexico by this creature within the first five minutes), so we become desensitized to the murder spree quickly. Bodies pile up throughout this picture with the morbid regularity of a crime segment on your average 5 o’clock newscast; The Predator winds up being just as fun as learning of someone’s murder.
Black is a Hollywood wunderkind; he’s directed quality work in the past (The Nice Guys) and was the screenwriter responsible for the cackling intensity of the first two Lethal Weapon movies. His efforts are known for being brash, bloody and funny as hell, with a sprinklings of honesty and wonder in some of them (his films frequently either have children as main characters or are set during Christmas). If nothing else, you’ll at least hear some entertaining dialogue and take a stroll in the shoes of interesting people.
Yet The Predator feels like Shane Black doing a bad imitation of himself, which is only one of this movie’s many problems.
The plot, if you dare to hear it: McKenna survives a Predator ambush in Mexico and steals some of its gear, sending it off to his ex-wife Emily’s (Yvonne Strahovski) house, where his son (Jacob Tremblay) also lives. The kiddo has autism, which the movie speculates is really the next form of human evolution. That’s an odd statement that feels worse the more you think about it, but at least the movie is attempting to talk about something other that slaughter?
McKenna is captured and interviewed by Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown, in a role that is so beneath him) about the Predator. The U.S. government obviously knows about it, because they were able to capture another one before asking biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to analyze it. SURPRISE – it winds up murdering most of the people in the lab it’s kept in (except for Casey), and now we have two Predators on the loose.
The government throws McKenna on a bus with a bunch of other loons. There’s Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes), who shot himself in the head but didn’t die. Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key) and Baxley (Thomas Jane) are military BFFs who enjoy busting each other’s balls; the latter has PTSD. Lynch (Alfie Allen) and Nettles (Augusto Aguilera) are also on this bus, providing their share of deranged rantings and threatening stares.
So the big, bad Predator escapes, trigging a series of events where the group escapes from captivity and Casey (by virtue of literally shooting herself in the foot with a tranquilizer dart, which was either very funny or very stupid) joins them. They set out to rescue McKenna’s son, who opened the package and now is walking around with it during Halloween trick-or-treating, the only clever scene you’ll find in this film.
Too much of The Predator devolves into dumb firefights that contain exactly zero suspense. Why do bullets start hurting the alien toward the end of the picture when they’d been useless earlier? What’s the point of playing up having two Predators if one ends up murdering another mid-way in this film?
More questions abound: More questions: how does Casey gain the power to become invisible after we’ve been so accustomed to seeing either the Predators or Quinn use it throughout? She must’ve gone through a tutorial with the alien technology in the very brief off-screen moments. How does a Predator dog (who makes face turn after being shot in the head and forgetting he was sent to Earth to kill people) follow the crew around the United States without seemingly triggering every national defense mechanism possible?
The only scene of slaughter that intrigued me was the after mentioned chaos in the lab, and that’s only because Black slows down to give us a moment lives up to the suspense of trying to hide from a technologically spruced-up killer. What should make The Predator terrifying is the idea that you can be the best at what you do (like a military sniper) and still be no match for a being that can obliterate you in less than five seconds. That sort of helplessness can only be found here by anyone who dares to watch this film.