The Predator should have been a blast. Between writer-director Shane Black’s talent and history with the franchise and the excellent cast assembled, the film should have been a rollicking good time of blood, guts, and one-liners. And at certain moments it delivers: there’s plenty of gore to enjoy and non-stop quips from the cast, who are clearly relishing the material. So with all of this in place, why isn’t the movie more fun?
The premise is simple, like it always is: military sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is on a mission that quickly goes to hell when a Predator crash lands its ship in the middle of his operation. McKenna steals some of the Predator tech, but it ends up in the hands of his genius son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) who is on the autism spectrum. To keep McKenna quiet, the military sticks him on a bus with “the loonies”, a ragtag group of military vets who suffer from PTSD, Tourette Syndrome, and trauma. The Predator is captured by the government, where Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown, chewing all the scenery) is hoping to steal the Predator technology and learn more about the creature’s biology from scientist Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn).
The Predator escapes (because it’s a Predator, duh) and quickly wreaks havoc, tossing bodies left and right. McKenna convinces the loonies to team up with him to protect his son and ex-wife (Yvonne Strahovski in a thankless role) and save the world as an Uber Predator descends with some predator dogs looking to join the hunt. Unfortunately the film rests on McKenna, a stock hero character who lacks the charisma and humor of his compatriots. Boyd Holbrook (Logan) is a capable actor, but his character is so thinly drawn he’s translucent. He’s no Arnold, that’s for sure.
There’s more fun and spirit to be found in the motley crew of loonies, which features Keegan-Michael Key, Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones), Thomas Jane, and Augusto Aguilera (Chasing Life). The cast is clearly game, and I’m always down for a “misfit team-up” storyline, but many of the jokes feel dated and groan-worthy. Like really, we’re doing Tourettes gags and yo mamma jokes in 2018?
While the film features some creative kills, it struggles with cohesive action. The editing is so jumpy and quick that it makes the fight scenes difficult to follow, and the story whips through locations to a frustratingly incoherent degree. I saw the movie last night, and could overhear audience members struggling to parse out when and how certain characters got killed.
Sterling K. Brown is a classic over-the-top Shane Black creation, but his motivations are murky and unclear. Overall, the film feels more like an outline than a full-fledged script. There’s plenty of talent here, but the writing and directing just isn’t up to snuff, which is unacceptable from someone with Shane Black’s pedigree. As a big fan of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys, The Predator just doesn’t have the same cracking wit and style that we’ve come to expect from Black.
It’s not all bad: there are solid jokes that land, and Munn delivers a smart and funny performance that proves she can headline a film of her own. The film is entertaining in fits and starts, but it just never quite comes together as a whole. And the final scene (which feels lifted from Iron Man 3), which is supposed to inspire excitement for a potential sequel, feels more like a “meh” than an interesting plot development. The Predator is fine, but it just never reaches the heights of the original.
(image: 20th Century Fox)
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