John McTiernan’s Predator remains an action/sci-fi classic. It’s spawned sequels and spinoffs, none of which have come close to the 1987 original. Needless to say, hopes were high when Shane Black was brought on board to write and direct a sequel to McTiernan’s classic, which Black had a small role in. After all, Shane Black has been a unique voice in action films and his transition into directing has yielded some pretty great results, whether it’s his modern neo-noirs Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys or his turn in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the divisive but excellent Iron Man 3. Shane Black’s The Predator arrives in theaters mired in a controversy that is overshadowing the action/sci-fi hybrid. It’s a shame, as The Predator definitely pales in comparison to the original but still provides plenty of entertainment bang for its buck, meaning that it’s the best Predator sequel yet – even though that doesn’t say very much.
The film opens south of the border in Mexico. Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is sniper staked out to assassinate some bad guys with hostages when an alien spacecraft comes crashing in from the cosmos. We all know what has landed – a Predator. The mass murdering alien takes out McKenna’s compatriots, though the soldier is able to damage the creature from beyond. McKenna is also able to grab a few pieces of the alien’s weaponry, and he flees as the black helicopters to retrieve any and all Predator artifacts swoop in. A clandestine team of government operatives led by Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) wants to study any and all materials related to the Predator, and will use McKenna as their patsy in the cover-up. Before he’s apprehended, McKenna mails the weaponry he’s snagged to a P.O. box near his home, a box that is forwarded to his ex-wife’s home where the contents are opened by his young son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
As McKenna finds himself with a group known as “The Loonies” – a group of military rejects with mental issues consisting of Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes), Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), Baxley (Thomas Jane), Lynch (Alife Allen), and Nettles (Augusto Aguilera) – Traeger is recruiting Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), an evolutionary biologist, to study the captured alien lifeform. Of course, thinking they can simply contain a killing force such as the Predator is a big mistake, and things get even more complicated when the creature escapes only to be hunted itself by a bigger, stronger Predator. Dr. Bracket and the Loonies must fight on two fronts, one with the murderous creatures from space and the other against Traeger and his boundless determination to retrieve all Predator technology and employ it in an upcoming battle with the hunters from another world.
For the first two thirds of the script by Shane Black and co-writer Fred Dekker, The Predator is simply a hoot. It revels in the gory violence inflicted by the eponymous killing alien while employing the trademark verbal wit that has made Shane Black an action movie fixture for three decades. There’s a gleefulness to the vulgarity that spews from the mouths of the Loonies, exemplified by Keegan-Michael Key’s Coyle, who always has an off color joke to unload, and Thomas Jane’s Baxley, who mutters various obscenities because of Tourette’s. It’s that willingness to fully embrace graphic violence and vulgar language that makes The Predator just so much damn fun that you can turn the other eye when it comes to some of the convoluted plotting. This rogue’s gallery of misfit soldiers is a lot of fun to hangout with as they pick up arms to battle either Traeger’s nefarious G-men or the trophy-hunting alien.
The cast for The Predator is, for the most part, quite exceptional. The main weak links in the cast are the film’s two leads. Boyd Holbrook is playing a practically generic tough guy, and he allows little personality to come through in Quinn McKenna outside of his proficiency with a rifle. Olivia Munn avails herself better than Holbrook only because her character has a handful of moments of personality that comes through thanks to some of the film’s witty banter. The Predator is a film that really comes to life thanks its supporting cast, headlined by the foul-mouthed duo of Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Jane. Moonlight star Trevante Rhodes as Nebraska gets a stronger emotional arc than anyone else in the film, and the rising star shines in the role as a self-loathing, suicidal soldier on the fringes of the military. Stealing the show is Sterling K. Brown, who exudes charisma and menace in equal measure as the government’s lead on capturing the Predator’s technology.
It’s in the film’s final act that the wheels start to come off The Predator. All the witty banter is washed away in a loud, endless fight scene brimming with half-rendered CGI. A film that was at one point a messy bit of fun comes crashing down into a generic mess of boring, computer generated violence. The final act is bad but not enough to negate the fun of most of the film – though the final scene of the film, which sets up a sequel that will never happen, is unconscionably bad. The finale of The Predator reeks of studio interference with choppy editing adding incoherence to a lengthy but rushed conclusion. It makes one wonder why they’d hire Shane Black on to rein him in when it matters the most.
The Predator is most certainly a movie that is not woke. It’s regressive in its gender politics with a few moments intended for laughs coming at the expense of Munn’s Dr. Bracket being treated to chauvinistic behavior – only one of such moments works and that’s in part to Munn’s line delivery in response. It’s obvious that the film is aiming for an ‘80s throwback vibe with its graphic violence and machismo, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of its one prominent female character. Another aspect that is on shaky footing in The Predator is Jacob Tremblay’s character and his Asperger’s. I will leave others in the Asperger’s community to weigh in on whether or not the character and his portrayal is problematic, but it doesn’t feel exactly the most respectful.
I really wanted to love The Predator but only walked out of the theater merely liking it. The Predator is Shane Black’s weakest effort as a director. It’s a film that features some of Black’s trademark wit but it’s far too inconsistent for anyone who isn’t a die-hard fan of either Shane Black or the Predator films. Because of its pedigree The Predator does count as a disappointment, but it’s the rare kind of disappointment that is still entertaining for the most part. It’s aim is askew and yet The Predator still hits a few of its targets.
An entertaining and uneven sequel to the 1987 classic, Shane Black’s The Predator has plenty of moments that hit its mark but is undone by a dreadful final act that is noisy and chaotic.