You don’t have to have a plot to have a good movie. But you do need decent editing, lighting, shot composition, and directorial vision. Shane Black’s The Predator has none of the above. Where John McTiernan’s 1987 perfect blend of sci-fi and horror remains an exemplary entry in the action film pantheon, Black’s dimly-lit and dim-witted addition to the Predator mythology is nearly incoherent. In the vein of Suicide Squad, there’s little in the sense of time, space, or plot–it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to discern characters’ decisions or movements from Point A to Point B. I think the majority of the events occur in the course of one Halloween evening, though it’s hard to be sure. Things just sorta happen.
Where the original wisely waited to reveal the Predator alien in all its ugly mandible glory, The Predator opens in a spacecraft on the run from pursuing authorities–perhaps a callback to the opening scene of Star Wars?–and gives us a full view of this new big-game hunter right away. If one was hoping that a new take on the film might be to focus on the Predator’s perspective and make the antagonist the protagonist, all hopes of fresh takes are dashed as the focus turns to three disjointed plots: the Predator’s ship crashes near McKenna (Charlie Hunnam…I mean, Garret Hedland…I mean Boyd Holbrook), a sniper on a covert mission in Mexico who procures the alien’s iconic helmet and wristband, then mails them to his ex-wife (Yvonne Strahovski) and autistic son (Jacob Trembley) before being captured (though we never see this) by Traeger (Sterling K. Brown, chewing up scenery like it’s bubblegum), who is a…well…I’m not sure what Traeger’s motives or goals are, who funds him, or why he makes the decisions he makes. Suddenly, we turn to Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn, giving it her best in what she obviously realizes is a crappy film), an evolutionary biologist who, as it turns out, can also handle weapons and take on intergalactic hunters with the best of ’em. Her abilities are never explained, nor is Traeger’s reason for employing her, then trying to kill her. Somehow all these characters end up in the same super-secret facility with a cadre of PTSD-afflicted soldiers (why these doofuses are being transported in the middle of the night to a secret alien-studying facility is beyond me), and then they suddenly have guns and an RV and there are Predator dogs and an 11-foot super Predator, and it’s all on Halloween night (I think). Turns out this first Predator is on a mission to *help* the human beings (which it does by killing them?) while the second Predator is tracking down the first one to recover a stolen item, what the film reveals as a “Predator Killer” which ultimately does not live up to its hype (Spoiler: it’s basically a big gun).
If plot mechanics, relatable characters, or being able to see what’s happening on the screen are not big priorities for you because you’re watching The Predator for Shane Black’s signature humor and gory action, prepare to still be disappointed. Sure, there are a few CGI-created bloodbaths when the Predator’s weapons are allowed to be used. Plenty of nameless government scientists and soldiers lose their limbs and lives here, and there are a lot of guns and bullets flying about. But after awhile, it becomes an endless drone of pointless violence, as the Predators aren’t affected at all by the human weapons. It didn’t work with the first 500 bullets, but let’s keep on shooting! Where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch was forced to forgo guns and utilize creative means to hunt and defeat the original Predator, there is no such creativity on display here–everyone just keeps pulling the trigger and apparently no one ever has to reload.
Regarding the humor, there are plenty of attempts, mostly by the band of broken brothers. Moonlight‘s Trevante Rhodes is wonderfully charming as one of these soldiers–he has incredible screen presence, and one wonders why the stale Holbrook is in the lead role when there’s someone far more talented and interesting in Rhodes. Thomas Jane and Keegan-Michael Key play off each other as a guy with Tourette’s and a snarky offensive reprobate, respectively. Their quips come across as near-comedy more than comedy itself; there were very few laughs in my theater. Alfie Allen’s character inexplicably disappears and reappears at various times, almost as if he wasn’t there for the days they shot those scenes, while Augusto Aguilera’s character is gratuitously religious–jokes about the Predator’s arrival signifying the biblical “End Times” quickly grow old, but the characters just keep making them. Trembley and Munn do fine with what they’re given, though this film’s treatment of autism and women is utilitarian and problematic–one wonders if Black’s employment of a sexual predator is indicative of his ethic and perspective. The behind-the-scenes situation gives the title “The Predator” a disturbing double-meaning; I applaud Munn’s courage for speaking out about the situation. Ultimately, I suppose Sterling K. Brown seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself for the duration of this manic, muddled, misguided movie. Wish I could say the same.
IMDB Listing: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3829266/