The Predator Review: A Film for the Times
The Predator review: Director and writer Shane Black offers a (slightly) new take on an old franchise, and it fits well enough to hide some – but not all – of the flaws.
Ever since Predator debuted in 1997, the franchise has had an identity problem.
The first film helped to further solidify Ahnold as a global superstar and gave birth to the adorable then obnoxious then adorable again meme “get to the choppa,” but the follow-ups could never match the tone or success. The four sequels (including the two crossover films with the xenomorphs from the Alien(s) franchise) couldn’t quite decide what they wanted to be. Were they action? Were they horror? It’s a delicate balance and one that the franchise has had trouble finding.
For The Predator, director and writer Shane Black goes in a different direction. There’s still plenty of grisly deaths, and The Predator is probably the goriest of all the films in the franchise, but that’s almost an afterthought. There’s also action, with lots and lots of guns and the occasional alien tech that emits a deadly pew pew, but that’s not the driving force either. What really holds the film together is humor.
In fact, if it wasn’t for the action-y climax and all the body parts flying all over the place, you could almost classify The Predator as a very dark comedy and you wouldn’t be wrong.
And the good news is that the humor is actually funny. There are a few cringe-worthy jokes that don’t land well and a few that try just a bit too hard to be “edgy,” but for the most part it actually holds things together well – enough so you can forgive some of the plot’s major gaps. Black also uses that humor to help make a ragtag group of semi-psychotic soldiers with limited screen time endearing. He also manages to get great performances out of the talent he assembles – some of which you’ll know from other projects, some you may not know but probably won’t forget.
Unlike the other films where the aliens known as the Predators hunt humans for funsies, The Predator starts out with one of the aliens coming to Earth and ending up in the… care of a human agency that knows about them. Under the command of the ruthless and quirky Will Trager (Sterling K. Brown), who brings in the also quirky but less ruthless scientist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), the fleshy meatbags begin to surmise that there is more going on with the alien guests this time around than just a big game hunt.
As the human scientists tempt fate with the predator, the only survivor/witness of its arrival, an Army Ranger sniper named Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) who is offhandedly described as having PTSD (it’s never brought up again) is experiencing all the hospitality of a secret government agency that doesn’t want any witnesses. Quinn soon finds himself labeled as a mental patient, because, ya know, it’s a shadowy government agency and that’s how they roll.
Luckily for him and the audience, that puts him in the orbit of several other conveniently located and uniquely talented soldiers that are also dubbed “crazy,” including a former Marine officer and soon to be BFF off Quinn nicknamed Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes), a pair of professional soldiers – Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key) and Baxley (Thomas Jane) – an Irish Marine named Lynch (Alfie Allen) whose presence with other American soldiers is one of many unanswered questions, and a former helicopter pilot named Nettles (Augusto Aguilera). You can probably see where this is going.
The team soon busts out and busts out (it’s never clear why the others were at that location and not a hospital to begin with) and heads to Quinn’s home to protect his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), after the sniper-turned-renegade accidentally puts his estranged family in the crosshairs thanks to a piece of alien tech. Miraculously, all the patients with severe mental issues are fine once they get a taste of action, leading to a major confrontation with multiple predators.
While the heart of the film is the relationship between Quin and his son, there’s a big effort to set up future films and retcon the previous movies in order to fit the bigger story. Franchise building is pretty much a given for popular existing properties these days, so that shouldn’t come as any real surprise. But the execution is sloppy.
Major plot points are essentially ignored, probably for exploration in future films, but it hurts the current story. The overarching plot also introduces a curveball in the third act that is meant to up the stakes and harken back to the 1987 original, but it doesn’t mesh with the rest of the movie as the drama overrules the humor. It then leads to an epilogue that is meant to act as a bridge to future movies, but it actually serves to highlight some of the flaws of the film.
Yeah, that’s a lot of vagueness, which is ironic for a film that laughs in the face of subtlety, but, ya know, spoilers.
In short, the third act isn’t as strong as the first two. The climax of The Predator is dominated by action, but that action feels hollow and often pointless. There’s nothing you haven’t seen before, and the removal of the tension that defined the previous entries leaves the rest feeling flat. Some of the deaths begin to feel gratuitous and there are some inconsistencies in the logic of the alien tech. That might sound dumb, but it’s worth pointing out.
Strong performances from everyone make The Predator more than just an action movie. When the action dominates the film suffers a bit, but as a whole, The Predator is a strong entry, maybe the strongest since the original. The question now is if the huge, dangling plot threads can be reconciled if/when the inevitable sequel comes around.
The Predators Review Conclusion
For an action film, the action is actually the weakest part of The Predator. And given that the third act is all action, that’s something of a problem. It then ends on a strange note, but that doesn’t take away from the strong intro and middle act.
All in all, The Predator isn’t the same type of film as the original that launched a franchise. But like its ultra-macho progenitor, Black’s new look at the old franchise – with its combination of irreverence and action paired with great special effects – is very much a product of its times. For better and worse.
The Predator is rated R, with a running time of 107 minutes