‘The Predator’ Review
This review discusses plot points from The Predator, but many of them have already been revealed in various promotional materials like trailers and posters. That being said, if you’ve managed to avoid all those—and bully for you if you have—I’m not sure why you’re clicking on this. Spoilers to follow, etc.
The Predator doesn’t quite work because it’s never quite clear what it wants to be and, when it finally does snap into focus, it’s about the wrong things.
Predator worked because it was a relatively simple story: A team of elite soldiers is dropped into a war zone where they are hunted by a technologically advanced alien, their intelligence and wiliness being the only thing that can save them from certain death. Predator 2 worked, more or less, because it took the same idea and dropped it into the urban jungle. Every film starring the dreadlocked aliens since then has worked less and less because we stray further from the simplicity that made the original concept hum along.
What if the Predator fought an Alien queen? What if the Predator had to fight an Alien that was a Predator-Alien hybrid? What if the Predators kidnapped a bunch of humans and transported them across the galaxy and then hunted them on a Predator game reserve? What if a Predator came to Earth to help humans defeat other hybridized Predators who are planning on colonizing Earth after it becomes uninhabitable due to the ravages of global warming?
Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is an American sniper who witnesses the crash landing of a Predator ship. After seeing the cloaked monster take out two of his guys, he grabs some of the hunter’s gear and hightails it out of there, sending the stuff to a P.O. Box, where it is forwarded to the home of his autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) and estranged wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski). McKenna is forced to team up with a group of Section 8 soldiers—there’s a funny one, a twitchy one, an honorably morose one, you get the idea—in order to save his family when the Predator figures out where his gear has been stashed.
Meanwhile, government agent Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) enlists scientist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) in an effort to track down the Predator’s ship and help figure out why they are coming to Earth with an increasing frequency. Traeger has captured the Predator who killed McKenna’s men, and, needless to say, the intergalactic hunter gets loose, some guys get disemboweled, yadda yadda yadda, suddenly there’s an 11-foot version of the Predator hunting the first laser-wielding bad guy.
The Predator is at its best when it’s at its chattiest. Shane Black’s script really nails the cadences and patois of everyday life forced into extraordinary situations. I never quite got a handle on Traeger’s motivations, but it was always intensely pleasurable to have him onscreen. Sterling K. Brown is a natural for Black’s preferred bullshitting mode. The band of crazies McKenna finds himself with all walk right up to the This Is A Bit Too Much line without quite stepping over it, in large part because if there’s anything Black knows how to do, it is handle dudes talking.
I’m not quite sure he has a handle on directing an action film of this size, however. Despite a couple of great shots—for instance: blood from a disemboweled body dripping onto a cloaked Predator, revealing his outline—the film looks like a mess. We are rarely given any sense of space or movement. Most of the time, characters go off in random directions and meet up at random locations and we never really understand how they got there or why. One of the leads is dispatched in such poor lighting and at such an odd angle and in such a brusque manner that a friend with whom I saw the movie didn’t even see the onscreen death occur.
More oddly, Black seems obsessed with Predator technology. Sometimes this is good, as when the hunter uses new toys to kill his prey. More frequently, it’s bad, as when McKenna’s son is shown figuring out how to control the Predator’s equipment—to say nothing of the final scene, which I won’t spoil here, I guess, but will let you know that it sets up a sequel that would compound this problem greatly. Black’s biggest mistake is attempting to give his characters a mastery of the alien hunter’s gear: Predator was great because of the technological imbalance between man and monster. The genius of John McTiernan’s original film is that it turned Arnold Schwarzenegger into a muscle-bound, Austrian-accented, 20-point buck.
The Predator definitely has its moments, but they are too few and too dialogue-oriented for the film to work as an effective thriller—or a suitable heir to one of the all-time great action flicks.