There are very few guaranteed bets of quality when it comes to the art of the action movie, but Shane Black is one of them. As a writer, Black carves out well-defined characters that are equal parts verbose and violent who play out winding crime mysteries. As a director, Black executes gory action that certainly gets applause from general crowds but also knows to pace them out properly so that it’s all the more satisfying to see it instead of constantly being assaulted by it for hours on end. Ever since he first came up with the characters of Riggs and Murtaugh in 1987’s Lethal Weapon, Black has been slowly but surely building up his resume and experience with the likes of The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodnight. He upped the ante when he sat in the director’s chair for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3 and The Nice Guys, arguably three of the best action movies in the last 20 years. So if there was anyone that could make the iconic Predator franchise not only relevant again but above the crop of soft reboots that have flooded theaters in this decade, it would have been Black. Hell, he was in the original movie in the first place.
There are a lot of elements in The Predator that were also in the original movie, the first obviously being the set-up. A spaceship piloted by a dreadlocked hunter alien crash lands in a random forest on Earth. It’s first found by a cocky Army sniper (Boyd Holbrook), who is quarantined at the orders of a sketchy scientist (Sterling K. Brown) and his team that have been studying these aliens in their previous visits to Earth (yes, it seems all prior Predator films are canon). His team is then joined by a biologist (Olivia Munn) who finds multiple slivers of DNA inside the captured Predator, including human. When the Predator escapes captivity in gruesome fashion, the biologist and the sniper team up with a rogues gallery of crazy ex-military men to hunt down the Predator as it attempts to find the rest of its equipment which has conveniently found its way to the sniper’s young son (Jacob Tremblay).
As much as The Predator has going for it with a talented cast, iconic title character and a genuine talent behind the camera, The Predator also has a lot going on in front of the camera. Black and co-writer Fred Dekker (The Monster Squad, Robocop 3) have stuffed the movie to the brim with plot and characters that unfortunately cannot fit into the movie’s 107-minute runtime. It would be a shame not to mention the fact that Keegan-Michael Key, Trevante Rhodes, Alfie Allen and Thomas Jane are all prominent characters in this movie, too bad the movie barrels through their introductions and barely mentions their names again to further hammer in how forgettable they all are. Despite the original Predator having one of the simplest plots in movie history, The Predator seemingly has four different plots shoved into it that barely coalesce into one movie. It zig-zags between being about Holbrook evading capture for discovering the Predator to Munn’s biologist discovering the Predator’s weird DNA to the appearance of a bigger Predator hunting the regular Predator to Brown’s plan coming to light. While it’s organized moderately well it turns on a dime so suddenly that it makes the viewer blink twice just to acknowledge, “Oh, it’s about this now?” It’s as if the movie’s breakneck pacing is used to keep the audience from focusing on any plot holes or cringy dialogue.
Speaking of which, The Predator’s dialogue is aggressively out of the modern time period for better and for worse. Black and Dekker have written lines oozing with ignorant, blockheaded machismo that would certainly fit into original movie’s era of bloated action cheese in 1987. In 2018 however, it’s very hit or miss. Some of the jokes in the movie are so dated and goofy that it earns genuine laughs, but other ones are so dated and out of touch that it’s hard not to tug at one’s collar in embarrassment. Not all of it is cringeworthy but when Jane’s character is given Tourette’s Syndrome almost entirely for the use of a gag between him and Munn, it feels like Dekker and Black wrote this in a week without much thought. It’s admirable that the duo take full advantage of the hard R-rating this movie proudly sports with its profane dialogue, but it’s obvious that Black has done this so much better in the past.
And that’s not to say the movie is completely devoid of entertainment. Black still knows how to orchestrate action scenes with an R-rating, and there are some inspired moments in The Predator. Its action scenes are bloody and well set-up, surrounding the always intimidating presence of the Predator monster that still looks great after all these years. While the movie has sacrificed the monster’s power of being mysterious and unknown, it trades that in for the Predator using gadgets, lasers and brute force to smear blood on the walls of nearly every scene it’s in. Even the bigger Predator monster gets some great moments of brutality to show off accompanied by some adorable Predator dogs at his side. When Black strips the deadweight of the plot off of the movie to just have the Predator hunting the characters, the fun action schlock that’s expected of him is on full display.
The chemistry of the cast, who are all very self-aware of the stakes and expectations, also goes a long way as they seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company and revel in the adult goofiness this movie. Holbrook makes for a fine action lead with his Southern charisma and slick appearance, even though Rhodes clearly has double with Holbrook brings. Key and Jane, despite having some of the worst lines in the movie, wisely become something of a friendly duo that actually become moderately endearing. Munn clearly has the right attitude to hold her own against the macho cast, and it’s nice to see Brown have fun playing a bad guy.
The Predator is a very messy endeavor that wants to live in the good ol’ days of the 80s without being held to the improved standards of modern action movies. It’s rushed, overstuffed and frequently loses its own focus. It’s admirable that Black clearly had interesting ideas on his mind and, maybe to avoid being roped back into directing a sequel, put all of them in the movie to wash his hands of the franchise. There’s fun to be had in The Predator but it’s saddled with a lazy script that doesn’t want to learn anything from its past mistakes. As entertaining as it is to see the Predator in any movie context again, it would’ve been nice to see the galaxy’s greatest hunter learn something new.