Back in 1987, horror/action buffs were blessed with one of the most badass films to ever punch us in our drooling faces: Predator. Full of incredible action, creatures, gore, and some of the most memorable one liners of the 80s, the film instantly struck a chord and created a sci-fi horror legacy spanning films, comics, books, and so on. For most fans though, the sequels (I happen to love Predator 2), have left a lot to be desired. The Predator, unfortunately, is no exception…
…Directed by Shane Black (The Nice Guys) and written by Black and Fred Dekker (Monster Squad), The Predator stars Boyd Holbrook as a sniper who encounters a Predator and finds himself and his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) wrapped up in a government conspiracy and Predator on Super Predator warfare. Together with a ragtag group of literally psychotic soldiers, Holbrook and his son must fight enemies on all sides in order to prevent the end of the human race.
Ah, the sick joy I felt when this film was first announced. Shane Black, the genius writer behind films like the Lethal Weapon franchise, not to mention the improvements he made to the script of the original Predator. And then there’s Fred Dekker, a guy who made two incredibly fun horror films in Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps. The guys are good friends from what I understand, so it seemed like a dream come true. And then, the cast announcements began rolling in. Boyd Holbrook, okay, fine. Thomas Jane, cool. Wait, Keegan-Michael Key? Huh? Olivia Munn!? The more the announcements rolled in, the more this seemed like Black was aiming for comedy more than machismo. And that’s exactly what we get in The Predator.
To be fair, the cast is fine in their roles. Holbrook does well as our lead badass, Tremblay is sympathetic as a young boy with aspergers, and everyone else is charming in their own way. But by playing up the comedy and downgrading the “tough guy (or girl)” mentality, the cast never once feels like a Predator film cast. The original Predator featured a group that was essentially The Expendables before there was an Expendables film, and that continued to a lesser extent with the next two films. But here, not only is the cast full of unlikely actors/actresses, but Black and Dekker play up the comedy to an extent where the group of misfits are consistently chickening out, or acting afraid, or cracking lame jokes, that I found it hard to imagine any one of them could ever face a Predator, more or less a Super Predator (more on that later).
To their credit, however, the filmmakers try to accomplish something that isn’t seen often enough in film, and that is the fact that, with so many of the characters facing disabilities such as aspergers, turrets, suicidal tendencies, and so on, Black and Dekker clearly aim to validate these sorts of people as more than their disabilities. It seems to be a message about veterans and the way America tends to cast them out like garbage, viewing them as no longer “stable” enough to take part in society. But in The Predator, these are the good guys. They’re good people, heroes even, and that’s not how these sorts of characters are treated all that often in film. It’s different, and doesn’t quite work for me in a Predator film, but I commend the filmmakers for attempting to make the statement nonetheless.
One could argue that The Predator is far too big for its own good. What works with the first Predator is that it is a contained film, with a creature hunting a group of men in an isolated jungle. Simple. The Predator, on the other hand, reeks of studio interference and an environment created by Hollywood where it’s nearly impossible, in their minds, for a film to make money unless its full of spectacle and costs a spaceship full of money. The Predator prides itself on its flash and quick pace, focused far more on over the top set pieces and flashy effects than it ever is story and good pacing. It’s as if Black and Dekker are terrified of the audience finding any one moment to be “too slow”, so instead, The Predator moves at a pace that hardly allows a breath for the audience to catch up, which doesn’t work in a film that is overly complicated and full of plot holes. And that’s too bad, because The Predator is at its best when it focuses on the horror.
The Predator feels like just about everything that’s wrong with big budget studio films. It’s no secret now that The Predator went through countless reshoots, and with how much money is invested in these films, studios are far more willing now to cut and paste as much as they can to please just about every comment card from test audiences, rather than trying to keep the main intentions of the film alive. The Predator is full of plot holes, such as (MINOR SPOILER) the idea that a rogue Predator has come to earth to “save humanity” with cargo stolen from his home planet, yet he’s killing just about every human in sight. Or how about Olivia Munn’s character, a scientist who is brought on to help study the captured Predator, with no more of an explanation than “I wrote a letter to the government once”. Cool, thanks for being here to hand out vague explanations on what’s going on, Olivia. And don’t even get me started on the countless moments of extreme coincidence that occur throughout, including a character who just so happens to show up in a fight taking place miles away just a minute later, after travelling by foot! Simply put, The Predator is a mess, to the point where you might as well shut your brain off completely, or else spend the next two hours wondering what the hell is going on.
Seeing that Black and Dekker are friends, it’s pretty easy to imagine them sitting around saying “wouldn’t it be cool if…or wouldn’t it be hilarious if…”, to a point where they just seem like a couple of kids throwing every “awesome” idea they can concoct at the screen, hoping at least some of it sticks. Some of it does, but other things, like Predator dogs that barely play a role other than to roam around and look cool, hardly feel necessary. Maybe it’s no coincidence that “Black and Dekker” sounds a lot like the tool manufacturing company, because so much of The Predator feels manufactured, between bad CGI and forced humor that hardly ever works. And the countless one liners that reference famous lines from the first film? Ugh, I’d rather watch Topher Grace suck it up on repeat in Predators than have to hear even one more corny reference. For a writer/director in Black who is often great with dialogue, The Predator disappoints on every level.
Luckily, Black does get one thing right, and that is the gore and creature design. The Predator is so full of outrageous gore and fun kills, that it’s easy to forgive many (though not all) of its flaws. The Predator earns its R rating. For gore fans, we’ve seen better than what The Predator has to offer, but there are still plenty of moments that will have you laughing at the insane amount of blood being shed. And as for the Predator himself, props to the makeup department, who knock it out of the galaxy with this one. The Predator looks intimidating, cool, and just downright fantastic. He looks so good in fact, that I found myself frustrated that Black slips into a CGI extravaganza about halfway through once the aim turns towards the Super Predator, a hulking, computer animated mix of the “the most dangerous species in the galaxy”. Black should’ve taken notes from the Super Shredder in TMNT 2, because this thing is an eye sore. Oh, and all those “super powers” the Super Predator has? Yeah, they never play a role, so it’s not even necessary to have a creature like this, when Black and Dekker could’ve opted for a small trio of Predators hunting the rogue “savior” and kept the good times rolling with the costumes.
With all of its flaws, The Predator comes THIS close to having a final scene that would make fans of the franchise erupt in cheers…but, once again, drops the ball with something far more, well, stupid. Though The Predator gets a lot wrong, it’s still an entertaining thrill ride that has its moments, with an endearing cast that may not be what we all probably wanted, but is fun to watch anyway. Just don’t expect to walk away quoting lines from this film twenty years later, because I doubt you’ll remember any just a day after you see it.
The Predator is out now in theaters.
By Matt Konopka