As someone who likes to think himself a fan of most cinema-a list of titles which admittedly does include the 2002 remake of The Time Machine, 2015’s Vacation and the unforgettable mediocrity of The Wraith-is it bad that, to this day, I still have not yet watched 1987’s seminal sci-fi classic Predator from start to finish?
I’m certain the answer is yes. Though I’ve seen snippets of the film, most of the ending and enough “Get To Da Choppa” jokes to ensure I never need to hear another one, I haven’t once sat down to take in Predator in its entirety but am familiar enough with the premise, as tried and true as any Alien knockoff set in the jungle, with a macho cast led by the likes of Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, and the mighty Arnold Schwarzenegger at his heavily-accented prime. The same applies to 1990’s Danny Glover-led Predator 2-even less of this sequel has been viewed by yours truly, though I remain intrigued by the possibility of a warehouse scene that’s widely said to be pretty frightening. Additionally, as far as those Alien vs. Predator spinoffs are concerned, I’ve come to understand I’m better off without even acknowledging that they ever existed at all.
2010’s Predators, however, was seen on a solo outing to my local AMC one summer afternoon and the resulting outcome was that I enjoyed it, even if I’ve never felt compelled to watch it again in the years since. Set on a planet where Predators hunt for sport and revolving around a motley crew of humans abducted by the titular characters, Predators stars Adrien Brody, Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne and Topher Grace, among others, all running about in a film that ultimately offers nothing new in the world of cat-and-mouse monster movies but still comes off as a fun, brainless 107 minute excuse of a sequel.
When it was announced that action maestro Shane Black would be helming a new take on the franchise, one which would see him again collaborating with longtime partner Fred Dekker and now in front of the camera following his role as part of the cast in the original Predator, it sounded like a match made in heaven. With a promising cast featuring the likes of Boyd Holbrook, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan Michael-Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, and Sterling K. Brown, how could Black’s oddly named The Predator to go wrong?
For starters, the plot is all over the place-though the core premise revolves around a Predator landing on Earth and a ragtag team of ex-military operatives brought together under rather unique circumstances to try and stop it, there are more side plots than one might begin to expect, some of which I’m recalling as I write this. For example, the Halloween setting is near-100% useless, as is a storyline involving Tremblay and Holbrook’s estranged wife (Yvonne Strahovski) that doesn’t have any resolution whatsoever. At one point, the film shifts to a farm that’s never explained who it belongs to, nor the RV they commandeer to said location. Even certain characters tee up what could be some development on their part but are never allowed to go anywhere-a massive, repeated failing on behalf of Black and Dekker. It’s easily their worst effort yet, as they simultaneously try to shoehorn in a weak idea that the Predators want to initiate some sort of Predator-human hybrid plan that couldn’t sound more like an insane person shouting nonsense from the top of the Port-O-John they just tipped over. The dialogue, which is admittedly chuckle-worthy from time to time, reeks of the machismo camaraderie that feels somewhat dated, another stalwart item transported from the glory days of ’80s action to now.
Sadly, not a single member of the cast stands out in any way as well-Boyd Holbrook as the lead does something with his role that’s really no different from his villainous turn in Logan, while Jacob Tremblay does a serviceable job playing his son, a highly intelligent youth with autism that seems tailor-made for Black to utilize Tremblay’s pre-adolescent voice to maximum effect-isn’t it always fun to hear a young child curse repeatedly? Olivia Munn’s scientist simply requires her to wear an angry look on her face in a half-hearted attempt to look tough, while Michael-Key and Jane as former soldiers who find themselves teamed up alongside Holbrook are, respectively, yet another version of Michael-Key’s real-life over the top comedy stylings and an odd portrayal of a man with Tourette’s syndrome that appears to take a page from the South Park book of hilarity-Tourette’s is, apparently, still an easy target that’s as exhausted as it is a lazy comedic tool. Sterling K. Brown, meanwhile, takes on the position of the bad guy, which unusually sees him laughing in an odd tone, dropping swears and, for reasons that are never once explained, popping Nicorette from start to finish. Why does this happen? I doubt Brown, a capable actor, has any clue himself. At least Trevante Rhodes does his best as another military comrade of Holbrook, and even the mighty Jake Busey briefly shows up-too brief, might I add, which is truly unfortunate. I loved The Frighteners.
As for the overall work of Black and cinematographer Larry Fong, the movie itself looks fairly average, with certain moments finding the action taking place in settings akin to the original Predator, and an early scene in a lab might be The Predator’s highlight which inadvertently sets about a downward spiral containing every instance of action that follows. Dreadful CG that would be better suited to a battle-worn copy of Road Avenger for the Sega CD litter this film, as does an overabundance of graphic violence befitting of the subject manner that dances between convincing-looking and better off sitting in the clearance makeup bin of your local costume shop. Speaking of, the Predator costumes at the very least look like more than fifteen seconds were spent designing them. There’s some good work there, to the point where I probably would have tolerated a movie about a Predator going about his day-maybe he starts with a cup of coffee, maybe he runs out to pick up groceries, who knows. I also have no way of addressing how certain people met their demise at the hands of the Predator, simply because I either missed said moments entirely or Black decided to allow someone who’s never seen a movie edit this film. Entire sections of The Predator appear missing, which also might offer an explanation as to the rather nonchalant reactions some characters seem to have at the horrors unfolding around them. Oh, and the usually-reliable Henry Jackman, score composer who’s become one of my personal favorites following his work on Kick-Ass, Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and two Captain America sequels? While I believe he does indeed have music in this film, it’s buried deep in the overall mix, and when it does have a rare instance of coming up for air, what’s heard is hardly special.
In the end, The Predator exists as clear evidence that Black has lost the signature touch seen in Iron Man 3, Last Action Hero and two parts of the Lethal Weapon franchise-this is a ridiculous film with a smattering of laughs, run-of-the-mill acting, plot & character choices that range from confusing to dreadful and a director who asks the audience to shed any and all logic from their mentality in favor of something that requires barely a shred of brainpower to watch. That said, there’s definitely some MST3K-style fun to be had taking in this trainwreck-maybe you’ll enjoy it, maybe you won’t, maybe it’s time to start thinking about if First Man will live up to all the hype. Whatever the case may be, see it if you must at the end of the day, it’s just another movie and an awful one at that.