by Benjamín Harguindey
The most surprising aspect of this sorta-sequel, sorta-reboot to Predator is that it forsakes the series’ signature horror – a dreadful sense of primal vulnerability and cosmic indifference much like Alien‘s – for camp comedy. If John McTiernan’s seminal 1987 film elevated itself out of the B-horror depths, Shane Black’s version crawls right back and gleefully wallows in it.
Much like Black’s 21st century oeuvre, The Predator becomes a divisive love-it-or-hate-it fare, although unlike its spiritual cousin Iron Man 3 the movie wastes no time in subverting fan expectations (or indeed any expectations). Right off the bat the movie puts its starring monster in the spotlight as it crashlands in schlocky fashion in the middle of the Mexican wildlands and proceeds to lose a duel to sniper McKenna (Boyd Holdbrook of Logan). You know you’re not in for a horror flick when the monster is not only paraded in full view in the cold open but actually loses a fight to the hero.
Instead we get a comedy, and to Black’s credit it’s very much the kind he alone could pull off. It’s the combination of genuine naïveté, endearing characters and a script so loose and spontaneous that feels like it’s being written on the go that adds to a sense of cozy simplicity much more in line with late 80s/early 90s movies than with modern-day gritty realism. In that sense The Predator evokes an era with much more ease and much less effort than a lot of other 80s-worshipping fanservice.
There’s definitely a lot to like in The Predator, it’s just that none of it adds up to a coherent, satisfying movie. Consider the mess of stringed-up happenstance that is the plot: following the Predator’s defeat, McKenna loots its armor and mails it to his autistic son (Jacob Tremblay) back in East Coast suburbia, where the kid easily unlocks the secrets of the alien tech and draws unwarranted attention from space. Meanwhile biologist Bracket (Olivia Munn) is invited to witness a Predator biopsy and winds up chasing after the creature’s violent escape. She winds up crossing paths and joining forces with McKenna, who in the meantime is leading a mutiny of PTSD-addled war vets with nothing better to do but provide banter and cannon fodder.
The movie never provides a believable motivation for any of its characters. Even the Predator himself, once its presence on Earth is explained, doesn’t make much sense. But then nothing does, from a narrative or technical standpoint. The movie has evidently suffered heavy re-editing that does no favors to its spur-of-the-moment, continuity-be-damned narrative. Characters either have no introduction (i.e. Bracket) or proper pay-off (i.e. Sterling K. Brown’s wonderful villain), the dramatic import of several scenes feels randomly selective and the whole third act is a barely coherent mess in which the original Predator is quickly and clumsily aped.
Ending on a lackluster sequel hook all too dreadfully reminiscent of Pacific Rim: Uprising, there’s a little to enjoy in Black’s The Predator. It’s not the worst Predator movie by a long shot, not even the worst approach to making more Predator flicks. It is of some comfort that there can be such a thing as an auteur-driven Predator movie. Black’s fans and 80s-era champions will get some mileage out of his offbeat take on familiar formula. On the other hand there’s the simple equation that The Predator is not only too joky to be scary but also too joky to be really all that funny.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).