During a top secret mission, an Army Ranger sniper named Quinn (played by Boyd Holbrook) is about to hit his target, when a massive spaceship interrupts his mission. The UFO, which crashes to Earth, is piloted by a Predator, who immediately murders everyone it encounters. The outcome makes Quinn seem like a lunatic for blaming all the carnage on a heavily armed, dreadlocked E.T. with invisibility powers. Meanwhile, Quinn’s little boy (well played by Jacob Tremblay from Room) receives a package from his father and discovers that, instead of a new game set, daddy sent him the helmet and weaponized arm band of The Predator. Sure beats a Playstation.
Shane Black’s The Predator, one of the biggest disappointments of 2018, is tonally off and rushed from the very first scene. The opening 10 minutes described above, with the ultra-violence of the Predator battles and the little boy being bullied in school and finding a wondrous alien toy at home, seem like two very different movies. Black has included a young child as side characters in his movies before (notably Iron Man 3 and The Last Boy Scout) but it doesn’t pay off here at all. If anything, all the scenes of Quinn’s domestic life, including an unfortunate appearance for Yvonne Strahovski (so amazing in “The Handmaid’s Tale”) as his estranged wife, should have been eliminated.
Despite Black at the helm (and having written the screenplay with Fred Dekker, who wrote The Monster Squad with Black), it’s never as funny or exciting as you’d expect. Black is the author of Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, movies that are memorable for their remarkable action sequences and hysterically funny (and quotable) one-liners. It’s hard to say if the script he and Dekker created has been cut down by budgetary or studio concerns, or if they simply failed to give this can’t-miss project the zest it needed.
The Predator may suffer from an overly severe edit but at least it’s lively and never stops moving. It’s also nice to hear Alan Silvestri’s theme music from the 1987 original and there’s also a clever bit of casting that connects this to Predator 2. Black is operating like it’s still the 1980s, as the casually sadistic violence is as frequent as the very un-PC language and sexism. Still, if any Reagan-era rehash chokes from its attempt to instill wide-eyed nostalgia, it’s definitely this one. The 2010 Predators, with a buffed-up Adrien Brody taking on the space hunter, also had its problems but was far more inventive and consistently thrilling. Here, things are constantly exploding and bodies are frequently mutilated… but I never felt anything.
A big problem is Holbrook, who can’t hold the screen and is thoroughly underwhelming in the pivotal lead role. He’s hard to believe as an all-powerful super-soldier and he’s out-acted by Keegan-Michael Key, who steals the film and should have played the lead himself. Then there’s Olivia Munn, as believable playing a scientist as Denise Richards once was as a nuclear physicist in the 007 thriller, The World is Not Enough.
For all the moments I enjoyed (like the force field on the Predator’s spaceship and his initial killing spree after being sedated in a lab), it never adds up to anything. John McTiernan’s original Predator was a slow build to a great Ah-nold versus “one ugly mutha-,” mano y alien tussle. The wild, downright batty climax of Predator 2 offered a high rise smash-up, a subway chase, a spaceship full of Predators, and even a nod to Alien (and let’s not forget the “futuristic” 1997 L.A. being overrun with Jamaican gangsters!). Predators peaked early but has enough B-movie spunk to carry it. The Predator is on par with the C-grade AVP and only a slight step up from the woeful AVP: Requiem (arguably the worst movie ever released on Christmas Day).
Our current obsession with 1980’s nostalgia isn’t going away anytime soon but audiences deserve a better VHS rewind to a former era. If The Predator has anything in common with Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, it’s that it equally busy, empty, and desperate.
Rated R/107 min.
Photo courtesy IMDB