The Predator (2018)
The Hunt has Evolved
You’d be forgiven for thinking that The Predator’s title alludes to convicted sex offender Steven Wilder Striegel, whose one scene — as a jogger hitting on a character played by Olivia Munn — was quickly omitted from the film mere days before its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Turns out that it was Munn who brought the actor’s predatory status to Twentieth Century Fox’s attention, Wilder Striegel having served six months in prison for trying to start a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl over the Internet. And living in the #MeToo era, something had to be done, hence the chop.
Controversy aside, The Predator’s title actually refers to those dreadlocked extra-terrestrial trackers who hunt for sport, making them less predator (animals that kill for survival) and more cold-blooded executioners (who kill just for the thrill of it), characters created by brothers Jim and John Thomas some thirty-plus years ago. The aforementioned misconception, you see, is just one of the many self-deprecating quips made in this fourth Predator installment — that’s if you minus those Alien vs. Predator movies — the film more concerned with throwbacks, nods and witty one-liners than it is with trying to recapture what made the property so memorable in the first place — um, horror and suspense. At times this latest iteration can honestly feel like more of a spoof rather than a direct continuation — which it actually is (contrary to those early Internet rumors) — the flick openly acknowledging past Yautja sightings and run-ins, citing both 1987 (Predator) and 1997 (Predator 2).
Admittedly, none of the subsequent Predator follow-ups recaptured the essence of the ’87 original, which saw a bunch of hardened commandos cower in fear, stalked by an invisible threat, a masked menace that was unlike anything audiences had ever seen. In contrast, within the opening moments of this newest Predator, we see the interstellar slaughterer do his camouflage thing, reveal himself and even lose his covering, viewers getting a good look at the ‘ugly motherfu*ker’ right away. Where’s the build-up/ anticipation? Co-written and directed by Shane Black — who starred in John McTiernan’s Predator alongside Schwarzenegger as soldier Rick Hawkins, and gave us the best film in the MCU thus far, Iron Man 3 (2013) — this franchise re-starter doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, unless you’re after ultra-bloody, albeit cartoon-y violence — there’s plenty of that. Bogged down by a multitude of intertwining b-plots and superfluous side players, this shiny new Predator vehicle is a big, overstuffed mess, and a bit of a missed opportunity, even as a B monster-movie.
Penned by Black and Fred Dekker — whose last theatrical screenplay was for the awful RoboCop 3 (1993), a good twenty odd years ago — The Predator kicks off to a promising start, the titular creature’s spacecraft, The Ark, turbulently crash-landing on earth via some cool looking VFX. Of course, it takes minutes for the lethal hunter to go into full attack mode, slicing-and-dicing his way through a bunch of military types, crossing paths with Army Ranger sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), who’s in the midst of a hostage retrieval mission in the unforgiving Mexican jungle. Thankfully, bad-boy Boyed manages to get out with all of his limbs intact, but not before a short but fierce tussle with the Predator, who drops some of his nifty highly advanced tech, McKenna getting a glimpse at the alien threat, too. Discovering the otherworldly armor (a wrist blade gauntlet, cloaking device and helmet), our hero decides it’s a good idea to ship the bigger items back to America, to his ex-wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski) and their young autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), Quinn wanting to use the gadgetry as proof of his unusual findings. Alas, Rory, being a kid on the spectrum, tinkers with the alien toys after opening his dad’s package (he is, after all, more comfortable with gizmos than he is with people), which inadvertently triggers a tracking doodad that brings the mandible monster to the small suburban town, in search for his lost gear.
Anyhow, the narrative gets more convoluted when the U.S. government seizes Quinn and takes him in for questioning, to a top-secret lab that holds the Predator, who’s also been transported for testing, but is quickly woken by the device set off by Quinn’s son, the beast wreaking havoc and slaughtering everybody inside the facility, Munn’s feisty evolutionary biologist Dr. Casey Bracket slipping out unscathed.
By now, Quinn is placed on a loony bus with a bunch of other mentally-troubled tough guys, all with mild to severe cases of PTSD, deemed as ‘liabilities’ by the U.S. government, their holding car stopped in its tracks by the space savage. Inside this 6-wheeler we meet disgruntled ex-marine Nebraska Williams, played by Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes, a guy with a twisted taste for self-harm; Keegan-Michael Key’s Coyle, who’s cursed (or blessed, depending on which side of the fence you sit on) with a vicious sense of humor; Thomas Jane as Baxley, a shell-shocked Afghan-Iraq war veteran suffering from the usual Hollywood style Tourette’s syndrome; and then there’s Augusto Aguilera embodying Nettles and Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen as Lynch, both of whom are a smidge less eccentric than the rest of their crazy cluster. Fortunately, this ragtag crew of rejects are genuinely funny and share excellent chemistry (despite churning out conventional macho-type dialogue), which makes me wonder why filmmakers didn’t focus more on this collection of misfits, building their individual backstories outside of a few throw-away lines.
The last person to join the fight against our unsightly adversary is the antagonistic Will Traeger, a hard-nosed government operative heading the Stargazer Project, played by Sterling K. Brown from NBC’s This Is Us (2016-18), the Emmy Award-winning star stealing all of his scenes with bad-ass lines like, ‘they’re large, they’re fast, and fu*king you up is their idea of tourism.’
As you can tell, there’s a lot going on in The Predator, making it difficult to keep track of what’s happening at any given moment. For starters, the entire subplot surrounding Quinn’s estranged wife and gifted son could’ve been shaved. Sure, filmmakers try to dump in a clunky message about ‘mental illness’ being the next stage of evolution (or some crap), but the concept feels wholly out of place, and more suited to superhero romps than it does in a Predator outing. Either way, it’s not properly explored or developed. On the topic of redundant, we’re also given some vicious-looking Hell-Hounds, who crop up round about the midway mark, which would’ve been hella awesome if they, ya know, actually did something! The Predator also struggles to lock onto an identity and tone — are audiences supposed to be cowering in their seats or erupting with laughter and applause? To make matters worse, the whole thing reeks of studio interference, the choppy editing, haphazard plotting and muddled mythology, coupled with eleventh hour re-shoots and a change of release date, signaling some behind-the-scenes turmoil. Just re-watch the teaser trailer; you’ll no doubt notice just how many scenes have been severed from the final film.
On the plus side, most of the action is gleefully graphic, while the Halloween setting adds a nice visual tang. Moreover, the introduction of the 10-foot-tall, genetically enhanced ‘Ultimate Predator’ strengthens proceedings, especially in a movie trying so darn hard to reenergise out-dated concepts, Black and Co. hoping to revive the glory of the 1980s. And, yes, we even have a ‘get to the chopper!’ callback. Performances are sturdy on the whole, with leading man Boyd Holbrook, Logan (2017), making a convincing tough-as-guts hero. It’s also nice to see Jake Busey back on the big screen playing the son of Predator 2’s Special Agent Peter Keyes, who was portrayed by retro action-movie icon Gary Busey, Jake’s real-life father.
Given that it’s been eight long years since we last saw the Stan Winston-designed man-hunting monster, The Predator is a middling effort and kind of a letdown, made all the more upsetting given the A-grade talent behind the lens — this is a Shane Black film, people, so I expected better. Wrapping up with a silly sequel hook that screams Marvel more than it does Predator, I fear that moviemakers may have imminent plans for this wearied sci-fi actioner. But whom are they kidding? This is one series that needs to be laid to rest, seeing as there hasn’t been a fully satisfying entry since, well, 1987.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by S-Littner