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John McTiernan’s Predator is, for me at least, one of the best action films ever made. It’s such a unique experience that was unlike anything at the time. it started as a testosterone-fueled machismo soldier of fortune action movie, only to pivot halfway into a film where the baddest soldiers on the planet are being hunted by a camouflaged alien. It doesn’t hurt that the Predator is one of the best designed cinematic aliens with a fascinating code of ethics. When it was announced that Shane Black of Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Nice Guys fame would be making the newest film, i was pumped.
Fortunately for some, unfortunately for others, we got exactly what was advertised, a true blue Shane Black film with all the gore, wit, wacky ideas, and off color jokes you can imagine. It’s also a Shane Black Predator film from 20th Century Fox, a studio so bad at franchises that it led to Disney buying them out.
The Predator has a bit more going on it it than your average Predator film. Instead of just a group of soldiers being hunted by another galactic game hunter, this film features a number of running storylines and concepts that both feel welcome and in the way. From government agents wanting to capture and study the creature, to a child with Aspergers able to understand the alien language, to warring Predator factions with different ideologies on interplanetary genetic enhancements, there’s a lot going on. I haven’t even mentioned the group of borderline lunatic soldiers who team up to take on the beast. There is, to say the least, a lot going on for a 107 minute runtime.
What differentiates the film from other entries in the franchise is that it is not solely a hunt film as the others were. Sure, there is plenty of hunting going on, and the final act of the film is essentially a sped up version of previous Predator movies, but with all the additional plot threads, it at least allows for certain broad steps to be made in the overall mythology of the Predator race (dubbed the Yautja in extended Predator lore). It’s a difficult balance that the film doesn’t quite pull off. One on hand, how many times can you just have a Predator hunting humans? On the other, it’s pretty damn fun to watch a bunch of badasses being systematically killed off by a space hunter.
Replacing your typical cast of high skilled soldiers, cops, or other warriors is a group of outcast, mentally unstable former soldiers and the man thrown in with them to hide his Predator encounter. Boyd Holbrook serves as a decent lead as McKenna, a wiry, quick sniper rather than your typical alpha Marine. He has a good enough balance of wit, intensity, and intelligence to make a believable foe against the alien trophy seekers. Joining him is Olivia Munn as Dr. Casey Bracket, a biologist who is roped into the proceedings to provide scientific explanation for some newer revelations. It’s not much of a role, but Munn is game for Black’s shenanigans and holds her own against some of the motor mouthed supporting cast.
Black has assembled a heck of a supporting cast to fire off his funny, often profane dialogue. Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Jane make for a hilarious pair of bickering soldiers using Tourettes and ‘Your Mama’ jokes. Auugsto Aguilara is surprising as a more soulful crazy who has problems getting too close to people and who thinks he’s in a relationship with Munn’s character. Alfie Allen, Yvonne Strahovski, and Jake Busey (playing his father Jake’s characters son from Predator 2) all show up as well, though in much less flashy, memorable supporting turns.
By far the two best characters and performances in The Predator belong to Sterling K. Brown and Trevante Rhodes. Brown, clearly having a blast brings a manic joy to his portrayal of shady, morally questionable government agent Will Traeger. Rhodes serves as the formally suicidal, often soft spoken, and excellently named Nebraska Williams. Williams starts off as the leader of this loony group, but falls in as Holbrook’s second in command after he joins the fray. Both are clearly having a great time with Black’s dialogue, and their interactions with other characters around them are some of the liveliest of the film.
What makes Shane Black films so unique is their constant ability to GO THERE. Jokes often toe the line, recognizing insensitivity when dealing with women or mental illness, then doubling down on it with glee. The strongest aspects of the film are the characters and the rapport between them, something Black excels at. The dialogue, characters, and their reactions to various situations bring some of the biggest laughs. Black lets his characters live together for a little bit, giving everyone a trait that differentiates them, allowing the audience to live with them as well. It makes it a bit more difficult when they start dropping like flies later on.
Black also has a knack for adding little touches that turn conventions on their nose, such as a little boy wearing a Predator mask for Halloween or a commandeered helicopter revealed to have two smiling morning newswomen dubbed “The Weathergals” plastered on the side.
The biggest missteps in the film, unfortunately, are in its plotting and action. Some of the action scenes are acceptable, but the entire finale of the film feels extremely rushed, even if it features some satisfyingly brutal kills. Some CGI in the film looks already 15 years dated, and sometimes the film could do with less rather than more.
Plot holes pop up to distract multiple times, allowing characters to appear or disappear with no explanation, or weapons and ammunition to be suddenly available from one scene to the next. A couple of characters’ fates are even left in a seeming state of limbo, leaving the audience to assume, with an educated guess, if they’ve lived or died. A lot of the film feels both shaggy and unfocused, but also totally rushed. It’s an odd feeling that seems driven by studio tinkering and mismanagement.
While the script is a bit of a mess, there are certain aspects that are at the very least interesting, taking the franchise in different directions. The revelation that some Predators back home are essentially juicing to become bigger and better offers us a Super Predator to deal with, and their war with other Predators offers the intriguing if unoriginal idea of predator infighting.
Henry Jackman offers a wonderful throwback score to the original films, embracing the original themes put together by Alan Silvestri. The creature effects geniuses at Amalgamated Dynamics also do really great physical creature work with the Original Predator, while the much marketed Super Predator is mostly CGI.
So yes, The Predator is a bit of a mess. It’s unfocused in the many new revelations it wants to give us, and there is too many scenes that feel like they’ve been chopped down and cut. Plot holes definitely distract and the finale feels disconnected, cutting so fast between action that it barely has time to register. For some, it may be distracting enough to take them completely out of the film.
That being said, the film is also aggressively funny and violent, two things that I very much wanted from a Shane Black Predator film. The characters, while sometimes thin, are entertaining, and the growing camaraderie of the core group of soldiers is as entertaining as anything. Black also lets the blood flow freely, with some of the more violent, gasp-inducing kills of the franchise. It was enough for me to walk out satisfied, if not overly enthused. I’d still be there for another Predator movie in a heartbeat.
The Final Pop
The Predator is a full-blown studio Shane Black Predator movie, for better and for worse. Its fun characters, rapid-fire jokes, and gleeful gore are sometimes undercut by poor editing, gaping plot holes, and bad CGI. It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you like bloody alien hunter mayhem, there should be plenty here for you to enjoy.