ON IN CINEMAS
The Predator (2018) directed and co-written by Shane Black
The latest in the series of Predator films opens with a pursuit through outer space which culminates in the fleeing craft crash-landing somewhere in South America. The event is witnessed by a group of soldiers, led by ace sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), who happen to be undertaking a rescue mission in the area. Who else should emerge from the escape pod but… one of the Predator species! Quinn ends up in a confrontation with the alien and somehow manages to incapacitate it. He takes away both its mask and a large wristband which allows it to become invisible. While he decides to keep the wristband for his own use, he mails the mask to his young son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), who lives up north with his estranged wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski). Rory is highly intelligent and scientifically-inclined but afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the same area where the McKenna family live, scientist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is drafted into a high-security lab in order to meet with Keyes (played by Jake Busey - the son of Gary Busey, who played the father of his character in Predator 2). It turns out that the shady government organisation which the latter works for has managed to retrieve the Predator’s incapacitated body from the crash site. Keyes reveals that he has found traces of human DNA in the creature’s spinal fluid and wants Casey to ascertain how it managed to effectively absorb the genes from a different species. Or, as she so eloquently puts it:
“You wanna know if someone fucked an alien?”
Another representative of the organisation named Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), who is keen to retrieve the Predator’s missing items, captures Quinn and sends some operatives to close in on his son, who is experimenting with the mask at home. Quinn is put on a secure transfer bus where he shares the company of a group of other military prisoners: Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes), Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), Baxley (Thomas Jane), Lynch (Alfie Allen) and Nettles (Augusto Aguilera).
Meanwhile, the Predator soon regains consciousness, busts out of the lab and slaughters a large number of soldiers and scientists as it makes its way out of the base. Casey absconds with the DNA sample and pursues the creature with a stun gun. When Quinn and the other prisoners witness the fearsome Predator escaping, they decide that it’s best to make a break for it. To this end, Coyle and Baxley create a distraction and they commandeer the bus. While the creature manages to escape Casey’s attempts to capture it, the soldiers hook up with her by way of saving her from some agents who are attempting to retrieve the sample.
Their next port of call is to save Rory, who is out playing trick-or-treat wearing the high-tech helmet which is now much sought after by both the organisation and the Predator. However, all parties concerned have an even greater danger to face as the latter’s alien pursuers are on the case.
Watch a trailer:
Following up an action classic
The original Predator (1987) was one of the greatest no-nonsense masculine action films of the 1980s. It combined a simple Walter Hill-style setup, Arnold Schwarzenegger at his career peak, engaging interplay between its macho characters, well-choreographed action, inventive alien gadgetry, carefully-orchestrated tension and copious gore into a superior and satisfying genre blend. The two sequels (not counting the Alien vs. Predator franchise) in 1990 and 2010 weren’t exactly bad per se but failed to reach the same heights. This fourth entry initially seemed to hold some promise as it was directed and co-written by Shane Black, who has won a sizeable following in recent years due to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), Iron Man 3 (2013) and The Nice Guys (2016). Before that, he wrote the witty scripts for the original Lethal Weapon (1987) and The Last Boy Scout (1991) as well as, closer to home, providing the funniest moments in the 1987 Predator film when he came up with the crude jokes which emerged from the mouth of his onscreen character, Hawkins.
Unfortunately, The Predator is ultimately a curious mix of half entertaining and half awful. It’s a surefire contender (if not the outright winner) for the title of “most annoying film of the year” due to all of the bad stuff undoing the work of the good. As with Black’s other films, the characters and the hilarious moments of interplay between them really sparkle. This is particularly evident during the extended prison bus sequence, where the pacing relaxes for a welcome few minutes to allow us to get to know the motley group of imprisoned soldiers as they banter, wisecrack and rub each other up the wrong way.
While Boyd Holbrook is a somewhat routine lead, the dialogue effectively brings his character to life. Thomas Jane is a real highlight here as the grizzled, Tourette’s Syndrome-afflicted Baxley. Augusto Aguilera is also memorable as the hirsute, Jesus-fixated Nettles. While it’s never quite made clear where Olivia Munn’s character Casey Bracket got her military-style pluckiness from, her injection of tough-talking femininity into the overwhelmingly masculine dynamic adds a dash of colour to the proceedings. There’s even a touch of childlike ET-style sense of wonder in both Jacob Tremblay’s sensitive portrayal of an Asperger’s child and a homage trick-or-treat sequence.
How do they fuck it up?
So far, so good. However, both the plot and many of the action sequences fall into a Suicide Squad/The Snowman level of incomprehensible messiness. I was willing to forgive the hard-to-follow opening encounter between Quinn and the Predator because of all of the Shane Black-fuelled fun which follows it through much of the runtime. Sadly, things start to go pear-shaped again about halfway through the runtime with the arrival of the pursuing Predator hunting dog creatures. Not only are their CGI renderings distinctly below par but, for some reason, one of them suddenly becomes tame towards the human protagonists. A bit earlier, Rory befriended a pitbull - which then suddenly disappeared out of the film a minute or two before the tame Predator dog appeared. Did it suddenly morph into this alien dog due to melding with its DNA? What happened?
The final third is a sheer indecipherable blur of confusing, poorly-lit action sequences and gruesome character deaths which are done and dusted so abruptly that they barely even register on the viewer’s conscience. It’s like the film takes a huge wrecking ball to all of the great work done in establishing the characters by bumping most of them off in the most throwaway, messy manner possible. While it’s honourable of Black to push for hard R-rated gore and dismemberment, it all feels incredibly neutered by its execution. While the CGI is, again, pretty bad, the wilfully tongue-in-cheek approach and blink-and-you'll-miss-it editing style are the main issues. In the original Predator, the deaths had an impact because the camera lingered over the painful results and let us count the cost of the various protagonists biting the dust. Here, they’re just treated like lazy splatter comedy punchlines. The poor editing also makes it almost impossible to tell who is attacking who half the time. At a couple of points, I was asking myself “has Casey just bitten the dust there?” only for her to pop up, alive and well, seconds later. It was just that the way in which the preceding scenes were cut sure as hell made it look like she was done for.
The Predator is, quite frankly, the most disappointing film which I’ve seen so far this year. The sad thing is that half of me (the Shane Black-appreciating half) feels that it really (and easily) shouldn’t have been. Apparently, a number of re-shoots and re-edits occurred before it was finally released. As to whether or not they were responsible for the mess is largely open to conjecture. However, I very much doubt that they helped.
Runtime: 107 mins
Dir: Shane Black
Script: Shane Black, Fred Dekker, based on characters created by Jim & John Thomas
Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera, Jake Busey, Yvonne Strahovski