The Predator and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox
Directed by Shane Black
I’m getting rather good at avoiding trailers at this point because I never saw a single one for this movie. All I knew was that it was another Predator movie with an annoyingly similar title to the rest of them (which is still better than the sequel to Halloween being called Halloween) and it was being directed by the guy who wrote Lethal Weapon, directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3, and The Nice Guys, and even got turned into a pile of bloody organs in the first Predator movie! I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a winning formula to me! At least until the recent news came out about his deeply irresponsible casting decision in the movie which frankly cast a big cloud over the whole thing for me right before it came out. Does this manage to be an entertaining film despite the problems that Shane Black managed to bring upon himself in the lead up to the film’s release, or was that the first sign that something was amiss with the latest entry in this franchise? Let’s find out!!
For some time now it seems that Predators have been stepping up their game and coming to Earth with a bit more frequency which is not just a good way to set ourselves up for some prequels, but to raise the stakes a bit as this latest invasion by a Predator seems to be a bit more than just some dude trying to add one more human spine to his collection. He crash lands in a jungle down in Mexico where military badass Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is on assignment to assassinate someone for something, but said crash landing makes things a bit more complicated. A bunch of… dudes (are they military? A private corporation?) who are part of PROJECT STARGAZER which is led by the mysterious Traeger (Sterling K Brown) capture the alien, capture most of its armor, and even captures McKenna, but not before McKenna… finds someone to mail part of The Predator’s armor back home. Apparenlty he wants to keep it for “evidence” which I’m SURE will come in handy when he’s carted off to a mental institution so that PROJECT STARGAZER can keep a lid on the existence of aliens. Not so much of a lid that they won’t enlist a civilian scientist Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to take a look at the captured creature, but enough so that the highly trained military officer who’s already involved with secret government plots like assassinations can be forcibly kept quiet before he starts blabbing to everyone. Sounds like a foolproof plan to me! Oh wait, the Predator escaped and is now looking for his armor, namely his helmet, that McKenna sent back home and is currently being played with by his son Rory (Jacob Temblay) who is on the autism spectrum and apparently has no problem understanding this alien technology. So it’s a race against time as McKenna and a group of mentally ill soldiers he meets (Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, and Augusto Aguilera) team up with Dr. Bracket to… I guess stop the Predator, while Traeger and PROJECT STARGAZER regroup to put an end to this threat and the people who know about it once and for all! Can McKenna save his son from the murderous alien as well as the VERY dangerous technology he’s been messing around with? What are PROJECT STARGAZERS’s true plans, and what are The Predator’s plans as well? Does anyone else get the feeling that the editor had their spine forcibly removed by a giant monster alien when they were only halfway done putting this thing together?
This movie is a lot of things. GOOD isn’t quite one of them, but entertaining? Hilariously inept? Bafflingly incomplete? Spectacular in its bold faced derailment of a consistently solid franchise? Oh that’s just the start of this movie’s problems, which is made that much more confusing since this wasn’t some studio monstrosity like The Mummy or a difficult property to adapt like Warcraft. This is a venerable director with a straightforward job (possibly even a passion project considering his history with the franchise already) completely striking out and making a film almost indistinguishable from other shark jumping genre fare like when Jason Voorhees did battle with a telekinetic teenager or when Ripley was brought back with Xenomorph DNA. That said, it’s at least an ORIGINAL direction to take the franchise rather than doing another jungle shoot-em-up and if this really is where they want to take the franchise, I am ALL for it! Okay it may not be as good as any of the other three movies (Predators deserves a lot more credit than it gets) but it’s certainly better than if they had done a soulless reboot or a boring remake!
Seriously, where to even BEGIN with this!? Well I guess we should at least try to figure out what it as trying to do in the first place so we can get a better handle on what went wrong. Now it’s clear that Shane Black wanted to do something drastically different with the Predator formula as the other three movies (I’m not counting the AvP films) were more or less the same movie. Okay, two was a PRETTY substantial deviation in a lot of ways, but the formula is still there; douchebag aliens are hunting for sport and our manly protagonists (and womanly ones too, lest we forget Elpidia Carrillo, María Conchita Alonso, and Alice Braga) have to fend them off as the underdogs in a sci-fi take on The Most Dangerous Game. After three fairly decent uses of the formula it was time to try something else and I even think there was some potential with the direction that they were clearly going for. It’s got a much wider scope than any of the films before which means our characters are no longer isolated (even Danny Glover in the second film was basically going it alone) and it ends up calling to mind Independence Day with a liberal helping of Spielbergian tropes for good measure. Because of the expanded focus, it allows The Predators to be an active participant in the story itself rather than an unstoppable force of nature more akin to a horror movie slasher, and frankly by THIS point they kind of need to evolve their goals in some way if we’re gonna keep caring about Predator movies. So we’ve got more characters to work with, a narrative that genuinely expands the mythos and does things we’ve never seen in any of the other movies, and Predators with actual motivations and a reason to BE here. Sounds like a perfect formula for taking this franchise in a new and better direction, right? The problem with all of this is that the film is fundamentally broken; to an extent that I haven’t witnessed since Suicide Squad, and while I’d say that this is still the better film, it definitely has that same sort of feel where you know a better movie COULD have been made from this, but witnessing the train wreck we got instead is a decent consolation prize.
This movie has so many problems, but I’ll basically boil it down to three points; an incomplete script, a VERY bad editing job, and a wildly inconsistent tone. At first you don’t really notice them all that much as the first act does a decent job of setting all of our major plot threads up (the Weyland-Yutani knock offs, the army dudes, the kid who’s basically the same character as the one in Iron Man 3, and The Predators themselves) but by the time we have to start moving the plot forward there’s no clear direction of where the hell we’re supposed to be going. It does a very poor job of explaining anything of relevance to instead focus on snappy dialogue and rather awkward humor which COULD have been fine if they didn’t try to make such a convoluted story. Instead, we get jokes that only sometimes land during scenes where we should be laying the groundwork for stuff that happens later and by the time that stuff DOES happen, it feels like it’s out of the blue! None of this is helped by the editing which is some of the choppiest I have seen in a long time (maybe not QUITE as bad as The Snowman) which is probably why the plot feels so hacked to the bone. Maybe some of these scenes with goofy dialogue were supposed to go on another few minutes and it just got lost in the editing room to make things move along a lot faster, but the end result is something that you can barely even tell what’s going on half the time. Characters can just pull vehicles out of ANYWHERE at a moment’s notice without any explanation, I’m pretty sure at least one of the main solider dudes is completely absent from a rather crucial scene early on (not because he was doing something else in the plot but because they forgot to put him in it), and there’s a REALLY important death in here that I can’t even tell you how it happened. I have a THEORY, but why should I have to try and piece together events like this when they could have just made it clearer in the movie!? Now none of this is to say that nothing in here works. For the most part, I like ALL of the actors who are charming despite some of the abysmal dialogue they’re given (I always love seeing Keegan-Michael Key whenever he pops up in a movie) and there are parts of this movie that genuinely kick ass in isolation of the rest of the film. A scene early on where a Predator rampages through a science facility is probably the highlight of the movie and it even manages to do a decent job of weaving all the plot threads together in one gloriously coherent moment. Sadly the movie never rises to that level again as the plot completely unravels after that, but it’s almost worth checking this out just for that set piece, though as I said at the beginning this is still a VERY entertaining experience in its own right. Sure, I’d have loved for that one part of the movie to effortlessly dovetail into a well-crafted action thriller, but there’s just so much wrong with this movie that it’s utterly fascinating to watch play out. I’ll give the movie this! It’s certainly unpredictable! Not for the right reasons obviously, but I can bump this up a few points for going in some SERIOUSLY unexpected directions!
Sadly it’s not all fun and games here as there are some issues that legitimately bring the movie down instead of heighten the absurdity of it all. The humor is a big issue for me as not many of the jokes work and most of them were obnoxious male posturing about how COOL and MANLY everyone is (not to mention jabs about the soldiers’ various mental disorders from actors who as far as I know do not have those disorders), when really they’re all a bunch of meatheads who can barely do anything right, let alone string together some clever barbs. Perhaps a more focused movie would have gotten some of that across, but in here it just drags the movie down a bit more whenever they try to spit one-liners or talk smack to each other. I’m also a bit unsure of the representation of those on the autism spectrum in this movie as it basically equates that with being an evolutionary advancement but in that way that plays out more like a superhero gimmick than any sort of real scientific and nuanced discussion. I’ll differ to those who are a part of that community and better versed in the best ways to show representation, but just be aware that that is an element in here. Those are just kind of in the background of the movie throughout which is annoying, but what nearly killed this movie for me is a sequence right in the middle of the film where the goofiness of the poor editing and scripting goes from something you laugh out to just outright annoying. I won’t go into too much detail for spoilers, but basically everything involving Halloween night, from the locations of characters, to certain events that happen with no fanfare, to certain scenes having absurdly awful staging for what’s supposed to be some sort of action scene, it’s damn near unwatchable and I cannot believe that out of ALL the things this movie tries to get away with, this STILL managed to make it into the movie in its current state.
This one is kind of hard to recommend in any serious way because while the enjoyment I got at the movie is by no means UNIQUE as laughing at bad films is practically a national pastime, it’s not something everyone will enjoy with every bad movie. There are some legitimately awful things in this movie both in terms of the structure and film making as well as the plot and characters, but I managed to have a relatively good time sitting through it. MAYBE check it out at a cheap theater as long as you know what you’re getting into, but this could easily be something you pick up for two bucks in a Walmart bin and enjoy live tweeting about. Heck, that’s like seventy percent of my movie purchases already! I’ve got stacks of these damn things all over the place (including both AvP movies), so while I probably don’t need ANOTHER to add to the pile, this one might just make the cut for me at even a SIX dollar price tag! Maybe Shane Black can use those precious Walmart Bin dollars to take a refresher course on how to construct a proper narrative as well as not making an unsafe working environment!
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