Director: Shane Black
Screenplay: Fred Dekker, Shane Black
Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Sterling K. Brown
Runtime: 107 Minutes
Why is the Predator franchise such an increasingly difficult series to get a hold of?
While the original film was one of the greatest action pictures of the 1980s – a testosterone-fuelled masterwork of simplicity and genre-fusing exercise elevated by its filmmakers and instantly memorable iconography – there is so much else that could be explored regarding the creature and its species. But the follow-ups have mostly varied from okay to terrible, even while occasionally adding new shades to the conception of the bizarre looking Predators as a race of ritualistic hunters advanced with alien technology.
The Predator, maintaining the loose continuity to the original film as with its sequels, has been brought to screen by celebrated writer and director Shane Black (who also starred in and contributed to the original film).
A one of a kind action filmmaker with a unique sensibility toward balancing sharp dialogue and counterpoint characters within generic foundations, always with a very inimitable air of sincerity playing alongside post-modern influences and immediately recognisable signifiers such as kid sidekicks, disillusioned lead characters on the brink of destruction and a Christmas setting.
Although only two of those mentioned elements seem to make it into this continuation, there’s just enough on display to show that this is a very Shane Black concoction. It’s also just enough to glimmer that it makes it all the more devastating that The Predator is a monstrous, garbled, fumbling disaster rolling into cinemas.
Much like last year’s Justice League, this is yet another product that has been so heavily altered and misshaped by a studio in an apparent effort to course correct in post-production. Word spread rapidly earlier in the summer that the entire third act was reshot after test audiences reacted negatively to the original climax. We might never know for certain exactly what went wrong here, whether the damage was caused by a rushed 11th hour redirection, but it’s hard to say just how much of this is to do with 20th Century Fox’s meddling or engrained in the original film and screenplay from the start.
Right off the bat, there is quite simply way too much going on. Ostensibly the film follows a group of PTSD-afflicted soldiers led by Boyd Holbrook as Army Ranger Quinn McKenna, who must fight off an invading pair of Predators with the help of evolutionary biologist Dr Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) and McKenna’s autistic son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay). Alongside this is Sterling K. Brown as evil government agent Will Traeger, who is looking to hunt down the Predators for some reason that’s never really made that clear.
This is just the highlighted synopsis for a feature that just has far too much on its mind to handle in a 100-minute runtime. As simple as the setup might sound, the schizophrenic editing present in the finished film ends up flitting between about four or five different locations and events without much cohesion visually or even narratively. Thrown in too are ideas for about five different films smashed into a single one, jumping between each of them without lingering or building on them.
The main through-line seems to be one about the Predators evolving themselves with the DNA of other species, and it offers up the one new and kind of interesting thing that the film has to offer in the form of a brutish “Ultimate Predator”. Who towers over others of its kind, and chooses to hunt with alien dogs and fight with its bare hands rather than with any traditional alien technology.
But then it starts chucking in lip service to global warming and even the possibility of benevolent Predators in one of the films many forced and pitifully unexplained plot points. So shoddily underdeveloped, in fact, that most of what the plot ends up boiling down too is never actually clarified as fact and just a theoretical pitch given by two of the characters that they just end up following through to the end with no actual resolution.
What’s worse is how the screenplay decides to reconcile the evolutionary tract of its themes with characters suffering from PTSD in the soldier group called “The Loonies”. This would be a decent enough 80s tinged premise in itself (all be it rather non-PC for a film in this day and age), but then they end up bringing Rory’s autism into play as something that might be humanities next evolutionary step and it all gets very uncomfortable as it becomes apparent that this is going to be the crutch that it’ll be holding up the final conflict on.
Storytelling shot to bits by the editing structure aside, there’s just nothing to really take from the film since it’s been cut to its blunted components of jokes and action scenes as the only things that appeared to have worked for the test audiences (although this might be pure speculation).
Even then, the action scenes are a chaotic mess of incoherency. All overedited and busy in a way that not only does an injustice to Larry Fong’s admittedly handsome cinematography, but doesn’t even allow the audience to enjoy the over-the-top bloody violence as much of it can’t be made out. By the time the horrendous third act rolls around and it just descends into a murky shootout in the woods, it’s guaranteed that most peoples patience with it may have just run out.
But there is good in here, buried underneath the wreckage of this clusterfuck. As said, the design of the film and Larry Fong’s cinematography are great, as is the score by Henry Jackman, and although messy and more unfocused than before Black can still write cutting and aggressively funny character dialogue very well.
The best moments are when the cast are just allowed to naturally play off one another, and they’re pretty damn good for the most part even with the characterisation making little to no sense anymore. The standouts being the cast of “The Loonies” who all give off immensely likeable performances in the face of their unevenly portrayed psychological ailments. Boyd Holbrook is very good in the lead role, Sterling K. Brown hams the shit out of a very undersized role, and Olivia Munn makes the best use she can of her straight woman schtick to a group of violent and juvenile men.
The Predator is one of the year’s most crushing disappointments, dumped into a September release slot buy a studio that didn’t know what to do with it once it was finished messing with it’s DNA. It’s a distressing waste of pedigree that never does enough with its approach, and wallows in its unfulfilled potential with a tacked-on final scene promising more – that audiences will either likely never see or never really want to see in the future.