The Predator | Shane Black | September 14, 2018
31 years after Arnold took on the first Predator in the Central American jungle, director Shane Black (who had a small role in the original) helms The Predator, the fourth film in the franchise. He doesn’t waste time kicking things into gear, beginning with a spaceship narrowly escaping a chase in outer space and crash-landing on Earth, with a Predator making it out via an escape pod. This racket interrupts the tense hostage rescue mission that sniper Quinn McKenna (Logan‘s Boyd Holbrook) is engaged in, soon putting the soldier face to face in combat with the alien, who kills his entire team. He ends up stealing some of its hi-tech mask and gauntlet as proof, knowing that no one will believe the discovery that he made and hastily sends this tech back home to a family PO box, which makes its way to his son Rory (Room‘s Jacob Tremblay).
On his trail is Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), the shady leader of the secretive government organization Project Stargazer, hot on the hunt for the Predator and its technology. He ropes in biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to find out more about the creatures, and sends Quinn off on a military prison transport to a psych facility after gleaning what he could about Quinn’s alien encounter. The colorful cast of characters and misfits is led by “Nebraska” Williams (Moonlight‘s Trevante Rhodes), Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), Baxley (Thomas Jane), Nettles (Augusto Aguilera), and Lynch (Game of Thrones‘ Alfie Allen).
The arrival of the Predator (and the Mega-Predator chasing it) brings all of these characters together to cooperate and stay alive long enough to hopefully beat said creature (and maybe keep some of the tech, too). The only thing is everyone is working on a different agenda and if they’re not worried about a violent alien finishing them off gruesomely, they are worried about their fellow man screwing them over.
The Predator is a mix of the gory hard-R violence that one expects from the franchise but with more of a focus on the quick-witted comedy that one also expects from a Shane Black script (co-written with Fred Dekker). While both aspects have their moments to shine here, they often are battling each other, resulting in a movie that is juggling two different and sometimes incohesive tones. There are often moments where it feels inherently like a Shane Black film and moments where it feels very much like a Predator film, but the two never quite mesh in the way that felt just right.
Boyd Holbrook is fine in the leading role and meshes well with the wild gang of misfits that he forms a new crew with. While some of their moments together may be a bit too strong on the 80s machismo and lewd jokes, that’s clearly the point and it’s their chummy camaraderie that provides plenty of the film’s best chuckles. While there are some funny one-liners uttered from Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Jane, it’s Trevante Rhodes who makes the biggest impression here with a performance that flips on both sides of the coin, playing the tough soldier card also with a sense of vulnerability. Olivia Munn is certainly given more to do than Elpidia Carrillo was in the original, but then again, that’s not saying much. Finally, Sterling K. Brown is chewing gum and the scenery with his mouth open, but reins it in just enough before going totally overboard.
While the original was loaded with zingers and bullets flying everywhere, there was also a patient slow-build approach to the reveal of the Predator that certainly is part of its magic. While it was never overtly horror, there were tense moments that left a chill in your spine, but there’s none of that atmosphere found here. It all moves at a rapid-fire pace, but almost to a fault, By the third act, it all feels a bit rushed (with some spotty CGI to boot – from the Mega-Predator and the Predator Dogs), resulting in The Predator ending in a sloppy fashion, with choppy editing and all too quick deaths that you don’t have time to properly process, let alone appreciate. It feels unsatisfying, to say the least.
The Predator is a film built with enough entertaining individual moments that have a mix of humor and gruesome violence, but it didn’t come together in a way that allowed it to make it more of a lasting impression. It doesn’t seem to know quite what it is, and its convoluted plot points in the first two acts don’t do it any favors. A tighter, simpler story would’ve really done wonders. Although it does have its fair share of undeniably fun moments, it isn’t quite enough to overcome its shortcomings, which is disappointing, as I feel like Black was close to giving this franchise the new footing that it deserves. Based on the ending tease of what may come, though, he could get another swing at things soon enough.