Director: Shane Black
Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Sterling K. Brown, Olivia Munn, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera
It’s a given from an audience/film fan perspective that you just don’t mess with the greats, at least not without just cause. But if you’re going to dare to try, which way is best to go: a full-on remake, or further exploration of set themes and characters in reboots/continuations? 2013’s Evil Dead? That was good – the original is still a rollicking good movie, but the remake was also a good one in its own right, for many reasons. A Back to the Future reboot? Dear lord, please, no, never, leave it alone. It would also potentially be wise (in theory) to have someone/some people involved in the originals get involved with newer productions, lest things get out of hand. Though that too could present a problem should said person/people be too close to the original project. So along this line of thought, how does The Predator fare as a continuation/reboot of the familiar story of this hunter-of-humans and collector-of-spines antagonist?
Quinn McKenna (Holbrook) is an Army Ranger on a sniping mission when he’s interrupted by a spaceship of some kind crash-landing. McKenna manages to procure an alien helmet and gauntlet, to keep as evidence, and send them somewhere safe before he is reprimanded by Agent Traeger (Brown) and his team. Not wanting this information to be released to the public, Traeger has McKenna sent off to a facility for traumatised/mentally handicapped military personnel. The bus he travels on has a few other reprobates whom McKenna quickly forms a bond, or a ‘unit’, with. As they’re travelling, the facility comes under attack from the Predator that was travelling in the spaceship. The unit manage to free themselves from handcuffs and, along with the help of biologist Casey Bracket (Munn), figure out that the Predator is looking for his missing equipment. McKenna realises the Predator will be heading to where his son, Rory (Tremblay), and estranged wife live, his package of alien items having ended up there. What they are yet to realise as they race to help McKenna’s family is that the Predator isn’t alone: he too is being pursued by something new and much, much tougher.
The name Shane Black may be familiar to many. Not only is he rather a popular, and generally good, screenwriter (Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3 [also directed by Black], Last Action Hero), he also played Hawkins in the original 1987 Schwarzenegger-fronted Predator. Originally he was hired onto that movie to provide potential rewrites for the script, but in the end that wasn’t necessary. So, theoretically, bringing Black on as director and writer (along with Fred Dekker, a frequent Black collaborator) of The Predator could only be a good thing, right? Well, kind of. Black wanted this movie to be a sequel rather than a full remake, verging on reboot territory (the ending is invitational to a sequel, and apparently a potential third). The Predator ignores the likes of the Alien vs. Predator films and instead sits between the events of 1990’s Predator 2 and 2010’s Predators (though it’s set in present-day 2018…). Probably a good call, really. He championed the need to have a real actor (Brian A. Prince) in a real suit physically play the Predator rather than use CGI, just as the original did, as it brings an authenticity and a level of terror to the film that CGI, no matter how hard it tries, just cannot match. It certainly does the film many favours when encouraging the audience to suspend their disbelief. The evolved, or ‘upgraded’, Predator seems to be mostly CGI, but to be fair, that dude is huge, and we don’t see a whole lot of him, so they could get away with that. The ‘upgrade’ is reminiscent of the Uruk-hai of the Lord of the Rings, the ‘upgarded’ version of the Orcs, if you will: bigger, meaner, and terrifying to behold. The general tone of the movie is also on trend with previous Predator movies: it’s dark, it’s violent and it’s full of action. But that’s where Black’s positive influences on the film start to trail off.
Black admitted he wanted The Predator to have an R/15 rating, citing Deadpool as a turning point in allowing these kind of movies to succeed whilst having a stricter certification. The Predator does at times feel like a Deadpool rip-off, as though Black was trying to emulate what made the movie a success: the humour, whilst not quite on the same level as Deadpool, is generally spot on, but it was unexpected and appears to be used to tape over a number of holes in the plot, not to mention the poorly paced first act. A number of characters are introduced so quickly you may start to wonder if you’ve missed something. Black wanted to match the original movies in tone and action scenes, which he pretty much does, but at the high cost of a weak story. You may also wonder at times just why these stupid humans are wasting time destroying each other rather than focusing on the bigger picture/enemy at hand. But then that’s just mankind all over, so perhaps there’s a little depth to the story after all, if unintentional. Who needs an alien killer when these characters can do just as good a job at hunting and taking out one another.
What gives this film any semblance of heart is its motley crew of endearing misfits. They’re all strange in their own way but have formed a bond, due in part to their individual handicaps, that is palpable. Moonlight actor Trevante Rhodes takes up the leadership role as Nebraska, a former marine who has had some suicidal tendencies. He keeps the bunch inline but is also determined to do what’s necessary, allowing Rhodes to explore aspects of a character that has deep-rooted issues (he is also bestowed with Arnie’s best line from the first film, involving the chopper). Thomas Jane is hilarious and pitiful as the tourettes-laden Baxley, with Keegan-Michael Key also providing plenty of comedy as Coyle, the two having a strong bond that plays out sweetly. The latter also acts as something of a father to Augusto Aguilera’s more naïve Nettles. The only one of the gang who could easily have lifted out is Alfie Allen’s Lynch, an Irishman who has something of an unnecessary narrative/expository role at times. Having said that, Allen still provides a decent performance, his little appearances making their mark rather than fading into obscurity. Boyd Holbrook’s McKenna is tough and unyielding, not the strongest of father figures, seemingly more devoted to being a soldier than a father, perhaps closer in character to the machine that is Schwarzenegger’s Dutch from the first film. Sterling K. Brown’s human antagonist is a well-written and -performed character, if rather a pointless one. With the Predator around, Agent Traeger’s vendetta becomes rather obsolete. Olivia Munn’s performance as Bracket is stern and wooden at times; the character feels more like a last-minute decision to add in a female for diversity than a genuinely interesting or rounded-out character. The usually astounding Jacob Tremblay portrays the autistic Rory as well as he can, but Rory isn’t your average endearing young boy, not with a father like McKenna as a ‘role model’. This isn’t Elliot and E.T. Black may not have written the strongest story, but he’s written some strong characters, for the most part. They’re a refreshing move away from your standard army unit of fresh-faced wannabes or experienced jackhammers, pounding the way as if they know best in unforeseen circumstances.
The Predator as a film merely serves only as a reminder of who the antagonists are in this universe in order to set up a future exploration of the character (or its upgraded version) and the threat it can/will pose. It’s quite devoid of anything substantial, and only finds its audience in its humour, its odd but charming characters and its action sequences, which to be fair are quite entertaining. Ultimately it’s a hurried 147 minutes of action and humour that introduces a new type of Predator and tells us what we can possibly expect in the future. If you’re a big fan of the original movie(s), you might find yourself a little disappointed, but it is worth seeing. There is certainly potential, as long as the next film can root itself in something the audience can get their mandibles around.