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Preys on the Audience's Wallet

Boyd Holbrook
Boyd Holbrook
20th Century Fox
 107 Minutes
Directed by: Shane Black
Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn   
The Predator

Here’s a word of advice for movie studios thinking about reviving franchises that had run out of creative and box office gas years earlier. Don’t. There’s a reason, and in most cases considerably more than one reason, why filmgoers turned their backs on the series to begin with. Universal’s misbegotten attempt to bring The Mummy back to life was quickly entombed, despite the presence of Tom Cruise. Now, it’s 20th Century Fox’s turn to try to revive the Predator franchise. All you really need to know is that, instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, and Carl Weathers tangling with the alien hunter, in a new film cleverly adding an article to the title and calling itself The Predator, Boyd Holbrook, Keegan-Michael Key, and Thomas Jane try their luck.


Director Shane Black, who was a script doctor on the original film’s screenplay as well as a member of Schwarzenegger’s commando squad, does respect the original material to the extent of being a logical follow-up to all the Predator films before it. This time around, the Predators are in the midst of a civil war, and one of them crash lands on Earth in the Mexican jungle right in the middle of a covert hostage rescue mission led by Army Ranger sniper Quinn McKenna (Holbrook). In the ensuing skirmish, the rest of McKenna’s team is killed, and he manages to recover a Predator helmet and wrist gauntlet from the wreckage. Sensing that he’s in over his head, McKenna mails the artifacts to his autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) back in the United States.


McKenna’s hunch proves correct, and he is captured and brought to a secret army base where shadowy government spook Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) is trying to figure out what makes the Predator tick. He plans to engage in some enhanced interrogation of McKenna, while extraterrestrial scientific expert Dr. Casey Bracket experiments on the Predator, who was captured at the crash site and is now heavily sedated.


Of course, heavily sedated is not sedated enough, so the Predator comes back to life and rips a couple of dozen scientists, technicians, and security guards to pieces before escaping. Also taking the opportunity to escape is McKenna, who had been placed on a bus to be sent to a psychiatric prison along with a group of GI mental patients who have dubbed themselves “the Loonies.” After the Predator rips a few more soldiers to shreds, it heads for Rory to retrieve the artifacts Rory is examining and figuring out how to use. McKenna persuades the Loonies to help him, but the find themselves completely unprepared when an even larger Predator arrives and eventually rips the first one to shreds.


McKenna eventually learns that the first Predator went to Earth to help humans fight the other Predators and provides a weapon that may come in real handy to kill the aliens if and when a sequel gets made. In the meantime, though, McKenna and the squad have to take on the larger Predator, which is actually a hybrid created by merging Predator DNA with that of other species, including humans, from across the universe, to create even more perfect killing machines.


The original Predator worked because the concept was perfect and simple, pitting the Predator against several of the best armed and highly trained soldiers around, leading to a knockout of a final battle against Schwarzenegger. Each successive sequel has watered down that original concept by throwing more and more distractions and complications (while not, in any way, creating more complex human characters). So now, in The Predator, the film has the most confusing plot yet. Who exactly is Traeger and is what is his purpose, other than to be a generic villain? What were the Loonies doing on the secret Predator research facility to begin with? How does the Predator spaceship wind up in the woods in California? None of this makes much sense (or, frankly, is all that interesting), but the rather tortured attempts at explanations that various characters offer throughout the movie merely slow the film down.


The plot isn’t the only thing that’s confusing about The Predator. The editing and camera work are quite slipshod at times, making some of the action hard to follow. One of the members of the Loonies simply disappears and isn’t seen for about 15 minutes, leading me to wonder if I’d missed something. Then, just as mysteriously, he reappears without explanation. Similarly, late in the movie, a major character dies, but the scene is shot in such a confusing fashion that many people are going to miss the fact that he’s dead completely. On the plus side, much of the action involving the Predator appeared to employ a man in a prosthetic suit rather than a CGI creation, and the rather copious amount of blood resulting from the creature slashing and biting people appears generated using old-fashioned effects.


While The Predator is a flop as a Predator movie, it fares much better as a macho buddy film. Shane Black graduated from his script doctor work on the original movie to some of the better buddy comedies of recent years, such as The Nice Guys and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The script of The Predator, which he co-wrote with Fred Dekker, is filled with good banter among the various members of the Loonies, such as “if a [certain part of your mother’s anatomy] were a video game, it would be rated E for everyone.” The characters also engage in a Monty Pythonesque debate as to whether they should call the Predator a “sport hunter” instead, because it tracks down its quarry, apparently for sport.


The dialogue and rapport among the characters, including the father/son relationship between Boyd Holbrook and Jacob Tremblay, works so well and so effortlessly that I wish someone could have found a way to transport these characters into a better movie. Similarly, Olivia Munn is so good as a Linda Hamilton-type badass that I wish she had a better vehicle in which to display her badassery. Alas, such was not to be. Instead, some talented actors and well-written characters spend nearly two hours chasing and being chased by a creature whose expiration date was almost three decades ago. It’s long past time for 20th Century Fox to prey on The Predator, once and for all.

In this clip, the Loonies set up an ambush for the Predator (CAUTION: R-Rated Language).

Read other reviews of The Predator: 

The Predator (2018) on IMDb