It’s not easy making a movie, and it’s even tougher making a good one. Sometimes, though, it seems like all the stars have aligned to the point where a movie can’t help but be great. A new Predator film from the co-star and script-puncher of the 1987 original? From the talent who went on to write and direct smart, funny, thrilling films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3? And co-written by man who gifted Night of the Creeps upon the world? The promise of The Predator was too great to ignore.
The reality, unfortunately, is too disappointing to enjoy.
When an alien ship crashes into the Mexican jungle it’s a trio of U.S. Special Ops soldiers who witness the fiery arrival. Two of them are quickly dispatched, though, leaving only Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) alive. He manages to snag some alien accessories on the way out, ships them home, and is quickly picked up by a secret government agency investigating the alien invaders. They already have the predator itself, and while mission leader Traeger (Sterling K.Brown) is intent on finding its spaceship, the biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is more interested in the discovery that the creature has human DNA. They all cross paths when the Predator escapes the lab in pursuit of his stolen tech and Quinn finds himself a new motley crew of slightly mad ex-soldiers willing to bring the alien down.
Director/co-writer Shane Black and co-writer Fred Dekker last worked together on 1987’s The Monster Squad, and while both have far better films on their resume — you know it’s true — the movie showed their talent at blending horror, action, and comedy into something memorable. The first official reunion is almost enough to make you wonder if that was a fluke.
But let’s start with the good.
It’s always fantastic seeing Stan Winston‘s Predator design on the big screen, and while there are some new tweaks this time around the core alien remains. He’s still a ridiculously cool-looking creature, and the film affords him some beautiful close-ups. Black also embraces the R-rating with some bloody bits, severed limbs, and gory guts left in the predator’s wake. Brown is the film’s human villain and delivers its most entertaining and engaging character as a man who’s possibly the most confidently dickish antagonist since Beauty and the Beast‘s Gaston. There are a few more gems in the ensemble cast including Trevante Rhodes, Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, and the eternally under-used Yvonne Strahovski. Each of them get a beat or two to shine, and a running gag about why the predator is called the predator brings some laughs, but beyond that?
The script is something of a mess, either as written or through the process of editing, and we’re stuck with numerous arcs lacking in payoff. Character traits are frequently set up and forgotten, and while our lead gets more backstory than most Quinn remains flat. It’s not a question of ability as Holbrook is a solid actor, but he’s out of his element as team leader going head to head with a predator. One of the big reasons the original still works so damn well is that Arnold Schwarzenegger is a bigger than life presence, and his ultimate one on one with the intergalactic sport hunter feels both earned and unavoidable. Quinn/Holbrook can’t manage the same, and the script does him no favors by declaring him a highly effective government asset one minute and having that same government write him off the next. His rogues gallery of a squad — which also includes Alfie Allen and Augusto Aguilera — deliver the occasional funny line, but their success rate isn’t great for the number of cracks they make. They’re joke machines as opposed to tangible characters.
It’s also just a whole lot of dumb. Sure it’s a monster/action movie, but that shouldn’t mean logic and common sense can be thrown out the window. Super smart scientists have a live predator in their lab, and while they sedate him they fail to restrain him. Dumb. The predator has hundreds of rounds pumped into him alongside some explosive munitions, and he’s fine. The spaceship? A few bullets and a grenade are enough to bring it down. Dumb. It also feels surprisingly small as aside from some brief scenes featuring classmates of Quinn’s son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) — don’t get me started on his unnecessary and clunky presence — there are only soldiers and government employees to be found. That might fly in the jungle, but in a small town and its surrounding suburbs? Dumb.
There are plenty of fun, thrilling action movies with highly suspect scripts, but The Predator fails on the action front too. Junky editing, the sameness of the human collateral, and the endless nighttime setting leave viewers with nothing to cheer or celebrate. A major character is even killed off in a “blink and you’ll miss it” edit. Worse, and this is the film’s greatest sin among many, is the shift from practical predator to CG around the film’s midpoint. Fuck that noise.
The Predator is a disappointment, and while it sets up a sequel it’s a prospect that no longer sounds all that promising.