In the age or reboots/remakes, Shane Black tackles on the iconic ‘Predator’ franchise after acting in one. Paired with a stacked cast, its clear that Shane Black was focudc on fusing new and old talents in order to revitalize the sci-fi/action genre.
Shane Black (who played a supporting role as Hawkins in the 1987 original) co-wrote and directed the continuation of the iconic franchise, bringing a stylish and witty flare to a stagnant franchise. Black’s signature style of slapstick comedy and being able to sell you a narrative for an enjoyable cinematic experience is seemingly exactly what this franchise needed, rather than a carbon copy of the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic . The Predator finds the perfect balance of humor and heart, which seemingly becomes what fans of the 1987 franchise wanted; a fun, brutal, fast-paced joy ride that wastes little to no time getting down to the gorefest that it was promised to be.
The Predator follows a former army sniper named Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), on his task at a job when he’s hit by an escape pod containing one of the infamous creatures. While recovering from his wipeout, McKenna manages to get his hands on some of the alien’s gear with great hesitancy and returns home.
In order to find out the aliens’ origins, a science teacher named Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is brought in to examine the predator that McKenna brought in, pushed around by a smug superior named Traeger ( Sterling K. Brown, proving Hollywood studios should be lining up at his doorstep to have him elevate any blockbuster franchise). As things predictably go left, McKenna is put on a bus of fellow military prisoners, including Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes, a rising action star in the making), Coyle (the hilarious Keegan-Michael Key), Baxley (Thomas Jane ), Lynch (Alfie Allen) and Nettles (Augusto Aguilera). Nicknamed as the “The Loonies,” the squad eventually connects with Casey and find out that this alien is more that they could have ever imagined.
Co-written by Fred Dekker, The Predator is a movie that throws out critic conventions and pursues what its audience wants, which is something more action filmmakers could learn from Black/Dekker. The Predator feels like a carry-on from blockbuster season and helps extingiush the stench from a lackluster August while providing us a breath of fresh air. There’s a structure to The Predator similiar to all Shane Black films that’s easy to take for granted but much harder in it’s execution.Black excels in jumping from beat to beat, spot to spot, while keeping the same uptempo pace and enhancing each character the perfect amount of personality and dialogue: aiming to register each member of the cast as more than just fodder for the Predator. Black gets a huge assist by the highest an incredibly charismatic cast, and he knows how to amplify their strengths. Holbrook and Rhodes are the buddy action movie trope that Black has been carrying throughout his films (The Nice Guys, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). Where as Munn surprisingly holds her own (although her character is relegated to a teacher with an assault rifle in the second act), and Jane and Key are the fun comic relief that is necessary in every blockbuster; providing snarky quips that help shoulder the comedic tone of the film.
But the real star of the film lies with it’s main antagonist, Sterling K. Brown. Acting as the film’s human villain, Traeger; a remorseless government agent who is the void of any real character development while still relishing in the role of being the big bad guy. Brown unimaginably finds a way to make a 2D character into a smug, cold blooded operative who balances charm and intelligence with relentless and intimidation.
Apart from the cast, the special ingredient that elevates The Predator above the potential disaster that it had could have been is the way Black and Dekker manage tone. They lean into the old-fashioned aspect of “The Predator” in recreating the misfit crew from the first movie to a certain extent, but they also play with a few other staples of ’80s action movies as if Black was playing jump rope between parody and reboot.
The Predator certainly delivers the goods when it comes to the bloodthirsty violence we all know and love from the original franchise. With the aid of stylish cinematography by Zack Snyder’s frequent collaborator Larry Fong, Black creates some extremely creative and raunchy R-rated violence, loads of inventive kills and unique set pieces and action sequences throughout the first two-thirds of the film.
The original Predator film has large elements of horror to it as well as action and its less-is-more approach to showing the Predator’s lorre is an old-school cinematic trick meant to pony up fear and suspense. This movie, by contrast, quickly becomes a straightforward action flick (a genre in Shane Black’s wheelhouse rather than horror) and more like a film where bullets replace the any sense of seriousness. This movie is as silly as it possibly gets. Sure, some plot points make little to no sense, and there are plotholes that plague the film. However, the lively cast saves the film. With all the action and comedy that veners all over the film, the only moments we realize the poor narrative gaps is after the film ends.
Unfortunately, the film falters in it’s landing. The last half-hour is not only choppily edited, but loses all of the momentum that was created in the first two-thirds of the film. It was reported that there were heavy reshoots for the film, and it’s easy to suspect that the third act was heavily altered. The visual effects take a noticeable dip in quality and the climactic showdown is too easily resolved, which to me is indicating a shaved runtime under studio deress. The most egregious act comes at the very end, when the film unsuccessfully attempts to forcefeed us a sequel without any of the build up needed to entice conumers. Rather than coming off as exciting and intriguing, it comes across as cheesy and financially motivated.
In many ways the 2018 version of The Predator acts as a love letter to what made the 1987 original so enamouring. Both films includes many of the same elements such as the rowdy camaraderie amongst the ragtag, hyper-macho protagonists, a certain level of comedy, a whole lot of baby oil and a battle between man and beast. Admittedly the film is wildy inconsistent and will get panned by critics but if you go into the film looking for a good time, The Predator is one hell of a ride.