I’ll be upfront with my sins against the obsession with everything 80s and 90s – I’ve never seen Predator or Predator 2. I’ve gleaned that the important lines are “Get to the choppa!” and “You’re one ugly m-fer” from growing up surrounded by pop culture, and I’m at least familiar with the original premise being “It’s The Most Dangerous Game… but with aliens.” So director Shane Black’s The Predator could be a perfect follow-up to those original films, and that would have been lost on me. I’m sorry.
I have, however, seen Predators, the 2010 entry to the franchise. This was the first canon entry to the Predator series since Predator 2 (the Alien vs Predator series exists in it’s own dumb universe), and pitted a small band of humans against not only the Predator we’ve come to know, but a larger, more dangerous version of the species on a planet specifically set aside for the hunt.
Well, now both flavors of Predator are coming to Earth. Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is a sniper, sights aimed at Cartel kidnappers in the middle of a hostage transfer. That’s when a spaceship escape pod crashes on top of them, and a Predator makes short work of Holbrook’s unit. He survives, only to be locked up by Stargazer, an obscure government project aware of the Predators and attempting to recover something from the full sized ship, whereabouts unknown.
Also crossing paths with Stargazer is Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), a science professor who had previously pledged to help the government in the event of contact with alien life. Stargazer has caught the Predator alive and is studying it under sedation. Of course, that doesn’t last, and the Predator helps the film earn an R rating by escaping in a flash of gratuitous, gory violence. Bracket escapes, in part because this Predator is leaving those who don’t attack it unharmed.
The third story thread the film sets up involves McKenna’s estranged wife and son. To ensure he had proof of his alien encounter to prevent from being set up as the murderer of his squad, McKenna sent the helmet and weaponized gauntlet from the Predator to his P.O. box. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been paying the bills, and it gets sent to his home address instead, to be found by Rory McKenna (Jacob Tremblay).
Rory is high functioning autistic, but the Hollywood kind that translates to “is able to understand alien technology.” A quick litmus test on autism in film – if it feels like in an equivalent movie from the 1980s-90s that the character would have just been called “a prodigy” or “a super genius” to explain how they’re solving all the plot problems, it’s not a real exploration of autism. It’s a get-out-of-plothole-free device.
There’s also humor. Known for writing tight comedies like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, you’d think that if there was someone who could balance the action of a Predator movie with dark comedy, it would be Shane Black. Unfortunately for me, it all fell flat.
McKenna’s new squad he met on a bus bound for a VA psychiatric lock up is set up as the team camaraderie unit the Predator franchise has been built on. They’re the group we’re supposed to bond to and champion, but all their scenes feel like improv. Bad improv. We’re also supposed to find it funny when they creep out Olivia Munn, which happens a lot. Probably would have gone more under the radar, but considering 20th Century Fox has been doing damage control regarding a certain cut scene in this film, the sort of toxic bro behavior on display as ‘camaraderie’’ in the film stands out a bit more. However, the audience I saw the film with didn’t seem to agree, and found lots of the interactions hilarious that I deemed tasteless. Your mileage may vary.
The strongest strike against the film is that, while it was enjoyable to a point, it doesn’t feel like it delivers on what a Predator movie is best at doing. Again, this is based off my understanding of Predators and not the original two, but it’s my understanding that it’s supposed to be a tense setting, where our protagonists are hiding in fear from a creature that is smarter, better armed, and can see in the dark. We’re not supposed to be able to identify from the start who is going to live. So much time is spent establishing a Macguffin the characters will eventually chase after, and introducing so many characters and subplots that by the time we actually get to the Predator movie, there’s barely any time left — we watch lots of characters that were heavily implied to be important get dispatched without fanfare.
Remember the time before Deadpool when certain movie fans would tell everybody that the PG-13 rating killed action movies, and seeing real blood and gore again would bring back the golden age of Predator, Terminator, and RoboCop? The Predator is proof that those people had no idea what they were talking about. You can make a PG-13 rated action movie great, and you can make an R rated action movie badly.
If we get the sequel implied by the final scenes of The Predator, hopefully it’ll be made by someone who better understands how to use the titular alien, and that RoboCop 3 wasn’t bad because it wasn’t rated R, but because a super genius kid solved all the plot problems. Seriously, stop doing that.