The main action of The Predator, the unconvincing, Shane Black-helmed attempt to return the thirty year-old franchise to box office credibility, takes place on the night of October 31st. Which seems right: the film looks like it was kitted out by raiding the nearest discount Halloween supply shop. It’s one ugly motherfucker.
Probably the main problem with The Predator series is the Predator himself: the galaxy’s most cold-blooded hunter is a goofy-looking alien. The dreads; the Boba Fett getup; the Bobblehead proportions; the seafish pig snout of a face. It’s an aesthetic blot emphasized by the Alien v. Predator experiments, which pitted him against the Gigerian nightmarish beauty of the xenomorph. Oh, wow, he’s got a energy blaster on his shoulder. That’s some bad ass accessorising. There was a reason they made him invisible.
But we’re not in the jungle here: we’re in small-town America, and the Predator is out in the light, smashing up labs, knifing scientists, jumping on schoolbuses and talking in translated Stargate macho talk. Across sequels and crossovers, the series has already thoroughly decimated whatever mystique the figure may have had, but it’s still a bit depressing to see him trudging through these cheap-looking sets.
What The Predator mostly recalls is Jurassic World, another attempt at franchise resurrection that misunderstands everything that made the franchise engaging in the first place. Predator was a sweaty Vietnam flashback of a movie, a dopey exercise in primal warrior chest-beating that succeeded via the dead-eyed commitment of its seen-too-much cast. It knew how to set the scene. Like World, The Predator tugs on nostalgia while offering a watered-down version of what came before. It even discards the alpha we knew for a new, genetically hybridised beastie, the Indominus Predator. They’ve pumped him with the DNA of the galaxy’s toughest fighters and it’s made him…. taller. Also, he’s got Predator poochies.
Like it’s new big bad, the film is a cross-spliced hybrid: half a bad Predator movie, half a bad Shane Black movie.
Yes, that Shane Black. Nice Guys Shane Black. Directing and scripting with Robocop 3’s Fred Dekker, who worked with him on 2015 TV Western Edge, Black brings his trademark gallows humour of messed-up dudes in over their head, but struggles to make it land. In a film rife with head-scratching moments, including a plot point of Asperger’s as the next step in human evolution, the most unbelievable thing is that Black looked at the day’s rushes and liked what he saw.
Up against the alien threat is a ragtag band of mentally unsound half-wits with tics for personalities: Thomas Jane has Tourettes; Keegan-Michael Key is a joker; Augusto Aguilera has long hair; Alfie Allen is Irish (??); Trevante Rhodes is named after a state. Olivia Munn joins them as the scientist who “wrote the book on evolutionary psychology” (what — the book? the only one?).
Leading them is former sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), who sets the whole thing in motion when he posts alien gear to his kid (Jacob Tremblay), whose spectrum super powers give him instant alien fluency. Putting on the mask for the first time, he gets a full video backstory about the origins of the Predator Deluxe. Why would you design a piece of tech that serves up secrets unprompted to anyone who hoists it onto their noggin? Haven’t they heard of GDPR?
The film moves in a rush, bolting from one vaguely-conceived set-piece to another, for story reasons which aren’t always clear. One of the Super Predator’s bulldogs turns docile after a bullet to the brain, and then just randomly wanders in and out of scenes. Jacob Tremblay accidentally blows up a bystander but doesn’t seem bothered. Sterling K. Brown says “motherfucker” so many times you start to feel embarrassed for him. Bodies are sliced and diced at such a rate that it’s hard to keep track of who is alive and who is dead, and harder still to care. Logic and clarity are lost in explosions of luminous green gunk.
The franchise has really gone to the dogs. Conor Smyth
The Predator is out on wide release.