Despite its thin storyline, its thinner dialogue and the almost anti-acting from its cast, the original 1987 ‘Predator’ is pretty much a classic, and for good reason. It’s an example of a film making the absolute most out of what it has and playing to its strengths, resulting in a heady mix of action and horror that still plays like gangbusters today. Affection for the original is certainly part of the DNA of Shane Black’s ‘The Predator’, the fourth film in a franchise that hasn’t ever really found its feet, but where its predecessor was taught and tight, this entry ends up as a bloated, confused mess.
On an assignment in Mexico, sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) witnesses an extraterrestrial crash, and ends up sending some of what he finds on the ship back home to his family for safe keeping before the government comes in. The surviving alien is captured and taken into examination, where scientist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) finds herself in contact with it; an enormous creature who enjoys hunting human beings for sport. Meanwhile, Quinn’s autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) starts playing with the artefacts from the crash and signals the arrival of an even bigger and badder Predator.
‘The Predator’ starts off well, setting up nicely all of the various narrative threads and delivering a really exciting and deliciously gory opening fight. The film looks slick, plays nicely with references to the previous films and establishes a fun, irreverent tone that appears to be working in its favour. Very suddenly though, things start to go very downhill, and you can pinpoint the exact moment it happens thanks to two red flags. Firstly, we start having jokes made at the expense of mental illness (in this case, Tourette’s), and secondly, the damn Predator... well... disappears. And suddenly, that irreverent tone gives way to a kind of chaotic messiness that makes the narrative bordering on impossible to follow, but without the kind of fun, crazy schlock to make it all worth it.
Just the process of trying to write the synopsis for this review confirmed how taped-together the story feels. There are plot-holes galore, almost none of the characters are likeable (or to be honest, that necessary), and Shane Black’s idiosyncratic dialogue, which is often his strongest skill as a filmmaker, just stumbles here with the annoying self-aware “cleverness” of Joss Whedon dialogue with a lot more swearing. One could argue that the point of a film like ‘The Predator’ is to have some fun and not take things too seriously, but there’s too much reliance on wheel-spinning dialogue scenes and confusing exposition than fast, bloody and bonkers action scenes, and you end up being so distracted by trying to work out what the hell is happening that, when those action scenes do arrive, you kind of miss them anyway.
Worst of all, the Predator itself is not handled well at all. Black is obviously trying to get the role of the monster to evolve, but much like Ridley Scott’s equally misjudged ‘Alien: Covenant’, Black’s decisions are counter to what we actually love about the Predator and deny us the ability to watch it do what we love it doing - hunting the damn humans. There’s plenty of bloody violence, sure, but mostly we just watched a super-sized Predator-hybrid-thing stalk around looking angry while the cast hurl lame variations of iconic 1987 lines at it with little enthusiasm, with those stupid Preda-Dogs in tow. In an effort to find something new for the Predator to do, what we’ve ended up with is the Predator not really doing that much at all.
In an effort to find something new for the Predator to do, what we’ve ended up with is the Predator not really doing that much at all.
It’s not all dire though. Larry Fong’s cinematography is often terrific, giving the film a visual kineticism that the screenplay and direction sorely lack. The cast make the most out of the lacklustre material, particularly Holbrock, Munn and Sterling K. Brown, and Tremblay continues to do gorgeous work that this film clearly doesn’t deserve. It’s just such a pity that this very impressive ensemble just aren’t put to the best use, and most of their arcs get lost in the confusion, noise and derivative sentiment. Henry Jackman also does an admirable job with his score, playing around with elements from Alan Silvestri’s score for the original, but its energetic 80s orchestral tone never gels with the film itself (I found myself often wishing I was watching the film the score was suggesting than the one I was watching).
Maybe I went in with too high expectations. Maybe the presence of Shane Black and this great cast had my hopes up. Really though, all I wanted was to have a great time watching one of the great Alien Big Bads hunting people and collecting spines while people knowingly rattle off a bunch of clever one-liners and run for their lives. What I got was something not that funny, not that entertaining, not that thrilling and lacking in all the things that make this Alien Big Bad so good in the first place. ‘The Predator’ is just a loud, confusing mess, not schlocky or silly enough to make up for all that it lacks. Much like the state of the Alien franchise, this iconic cinematic staple is spinning itself into a vortex of vacuous banality. This could have been such a blast. Instead, it’s just a bore.