Two alien ships exchange laser blasts amongst the stars. One rips a tear in the fabric of space and flies through a wormhole. The other lands a killing stroke before the portal closes, blocking pursuit. Our blue orb welcomes a new invading visitor as the first ship crashes into the jungles of Mexico. A title card announces the latest entry in the franchise, and if you’re in the spirit, a few key notes from Alan Silvestri’s original score elicit goosebumps.
The trouble with sequels begins when the filmmaker translates the success of the first film into a desire for bigger and better. Do what part one did, only more. Don’t stray from the formula. One alien is scary, let’s add an “S” on it. Of course, sometimes that pluralization works. That single letter once forced James Cameron to hop from the “old dark house,” slasher terror of Alien into the “last stand” war film of Aliens (1986). The hope was that the “The” in The Predator was declaring a similar evolution for this franchise.
But what does that “The” reference? The first alien hunter? No. Arnold Schwarzenegger took care of that dude. The “The” could have meant a return to John McTiernan’s ragtag bravado. After all, Shane Black was secreted onto Arnie’s squad of killers in ’87 so that he could play script doctor when needed. His homecoming as both co-writer and director of The Predator was a big promise. The law of diminishing returns would end here.
Yeah, no. I cannot find one iota of the filmmaker that made Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and The Nice Guys (2016) in The Predator. Maybe a few of the wisecracks riddled throughout the script are similar in tone and vibe to ones we’ve heard in those films, or Lethal Weapon (1987) or The Last Boy Scout (1991), but most land awkwardly and without punch. The narrative is trapped in that wannabe bigger/better mentality.
The opening alien dogfight says it all. One hunter-killer is bad enough; two is true action movie badassery. Is it though? Watching Stan Winston’s Predator get his skull handed to him by the swoliosis enhanced variety belittles my love of the o.g. design. To think that increasing the creature’s height to 11 feet and supplying him with metal-morphing skin and muscles atop of muscles could ever replace my first ugly mutha is insulting. How dare you?
From the opening crash landing, Black jumps from scene to scene to scene. We never get to rest with any one particular character and the result is a painful disconnect. Boyd Holbrook is a callous military assassin who’s south of the border operation is disrupted by a close encounter. Sterling K. Brown is the covert G-man of doom, tracking U.F.O.s and siphoning their technology for military purposes. Olivia Munn is a geneticist called on for her expertise but soon transforms into a machine gun warrior herself. Jacob Tremblay is Holbrook’s autistic son who receives a care package from dad and immediately repurposes its advanced machinery for a Halloween costume.
After a round of questioning that results in very little, Holbrook is shipped off to the funny farm. Black attempts to recreate another band of soldiers in Holbrook’s busload of loonies, but their stand-up comedy banter is irksome. They exist to gaggle and bicker until a spine-snapping space demon radically alters their priorities.
I love Thomas Jane, but what the hell is he doing here? His character is supposed to have Tourettes, but it operates as accurately and as sensitively as Tremblay’s surface-level understanding of Aspergers. Black needed cheap gags and a supernatural understanding of alien tech, and these two psychological disorders fit the bill. Questionable at best, offensive at worst.
Keegan-Michael Key is probably the most successful delivering comedy, but that’s simply because he’s a pro. He appears to be as surprised to be amongst these badasses as we are, and yeah, he sticks out like a sore thumb. However, we’ll take whatever respite he can provide from the banality of the group.
The rest of the gang are only successful depending on your enthusiasm for the actors. The script gives nothing to Trevante Rhodes, Alfie Allen, and Augusto Aguilera. They’re fodder. Honorable deaths and a good gore gag are their only aspirations. Like the jokes, some land with an “oh damn” and others hit with little impact.
The Predator’s most frustrating crime is that it never delivers on the showdown between beast and man. We get plenty of gunfire, explosions, and even a few limbs severed, but Boyd Holbrook is denied his mano a mano brawl. He gets gadgets and spaceships where Arnie was blessed with muscles and mud. What is even worse is that 20th Century Fox uses a tag-on epilogue to tease that confrontation for another film that surely will never happen.
This franchise runs the gamut from pretty-good to no-thanks. You can fit The Predator somewhere in the middle. Remove whatever Shane Black worship or anticipation you might have from the proceedings, and you should free yourself from the pain of disappointment.