Seeing the original Predator at 12 introduced me to a leaner, meaner kind of movie I hadn’t yet been exposed to. Times were different then. There were only two Predator movies, Aliens vs. Predator hadn’t yet left comics and video games, and sequels were something everyone was clamouring for. Times have changed. Now fans of this series react at best with scepticism when a new entry is announced. I felt that way about this new instalment right up until the lights went down.
Though the original film is regarded as a classic, Predator as a series has struggled to recapture its success. With some rather unimpressive trailers, I was expecting the worst of this latest attempt. In the end, the film was a lot better than I expected it to be but was still seriously flawed.
Shane Black is one of Hollywood’s most unusual talents. His scripts have a reputation for impressive dialogue and pacing, at one point earning himself record payment for his The Last Boyscout script. I’d actually rank Black’s The Nice Guys as one of the best American movies of the last twenty years. That high standard coupled with expectations that come with working on a long-struggling series like Predator stacked the odds against Black from the beginning. His solution was to try something different with the formula. He wanted to create a film with a more comedic tone.
The result is a film that feels more like one of the Predator comics. It’s not trying to be a horror film or ramp up the suspense, but rather attempts something more light-hearted and imaginative. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Horror series have found success by going a more comedic route, the most notable example being Evil Dead. Does it work in the context of Predator? Sometimes. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments, usually from Shane Black’s witty dialogue.
One of the biggest strengths of the film is its main cast. The trailers didn’t exactly do a great job in endearing them, but once we meet them in the film, they do turn out to be a pretty likeable bunch. Though Lynch (Alfie Allen) and Nettles (Augusto Aguilera) often fade into the background, McKenna (Quinn Holbrook), Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes), Coyle (Keegan Michael Key) and Baxley (Thomas Jane) do pretty decent work with the material they’re given. Sterling K. Brown and Olivia Munn also have some solid moments. There are also some nice nods to previous films, such as a cameo by Jake Busey playing the son of Gary Busey’s character from Predator 2.
As far as the Predator itself goes, fans can rest assured that the movie ramps up a hefty body count. There are some gloriously violent sequences here, and even a few moments of inspired creativity. The best scene comes in the opening act when Holbrook first meets the monster. While lying on the ground with its cloaking device activated, dripping blood from a hanging corpse rains onto the Predator, making its angry face visible to our frightened hero. It’s a nicely done reveal that’s as creative as anything done in the 1987 original.
But the review isn’t a rave. The film has a number of issues going all the way back to the script. We’re not going to discuss the controversy around how the film supposedly alters the Predator concept. Even without those issues of established lore, the script is just too busy. It has the usual plot of government agents after the alien, a trope that has appeared since the second film. There’s a brief subplot with Holbrook’s wife which is quickly dropped. There’s also a subplot involving one of the Predator’s hunting dogs that come out of nowhere, which is precisely where it goes.
By far the most unfortunate subplot involves Holbrook’s son Rory, played by Jacob Tremblay. The presence of a child in a genre film like this isn’t inherently a problem. Films like The Shining, People Under the Stairs, Halloween and Aliens have child characters that serve the story well.
The problem is the film’s angle with the character. The film has a well-intentioned but utterly clueless plot about how Rory is autistic but describes it more as a superpower than an ailment. Several characters even refer to it as a possible next step in evolution. This culminates when Rory gets a job at a government lab due to his inherent genius, which took the cake as the least credible scene in this series about an intergalactic big game hunter. While this subplot had good intentions, promoting such misconceptions about spectrum disorders is hardly helpful to those suffering from them. Rain Man may have made Hoffman a math genius, but it didn’t ignore the numerous problems he had. Jacob Tremblay shouldn’t be blamed for this. He does a decent job re-creating the mannerisms of those on the spectrum. The blame rests on the script for not giving him better material to work with.
The main story of Holbrook and his ragtag group of misfits is the strongest one on the film, and had this been the sole focus, The Predator would have been all the better for it. The Predator manages to create a real feeling of camaraderie between the heroes. Cutting out the other subplots would have given Black more time to build up his main cast, focus more on their fight with the monster, and make their journey more exciting, suspenseful, hilarious, even heartbreaking
The original Predator worked in part because it had a very simple story. The main plot of this film begins simply as well. A soldier finds an alien and takes some of his gear as evidence, sparking a bitter feud between the pair. It’s an effective little narrative that powers the story nicely during the first and second acts. After that, the script piles on so many stories and threads, they become hopelessly tangled in the last quarter of the movie. There are still some decent moments, such as Holbrook using the monster’s own ship as a weapon against it and a heartfelt sendoff to the characters we’ve spent the last hour and a half with. Still, the noise keeps us from feeling the full impact of the story. An unnecessary final scene only removes the movie further from the more humble, creative first act.
The Predator series still struggles to be a reliable franchise, not landing a definite hit since the original. But the concept and character must have done something right if, after thirty years of divisive sequels and spinoffs, these movies are still being made. This latest is one more example of a movie that didn’t get the franchise on track, but it serves as an almost perfect metaphor for the series as a whole. There is a good movie here, struggling to dig itself out. Occasionally we see it, and it’s enough to bring us back in the hopes that next time, it may free itself.
Final score. 6.8/10
I hope you liked this post and be sure to check out more ScreenHub Entertainment content here or my articles on why Predator is a subversive masterpiece or why Aliens didn’t turn the monster into a space bug.