Review| The Predator

Review| The Predator

Way back at the beginning of 2018, Shane Black’s The Predator made my list of the most anticipated movies of 2018. The original Predator is one of my favorite 80’s action movies, not even just ones helmed by AH-nuld. Combining the stealthy, monster-esque vibe of the Predator with Shane Black’s knack for dark, comedic violence, this seemed like one way to evolve the franchise into something new, exciting, and very funny. But alas, this new predator has failed to adapt to its new surroundings and feels more like a lukewarm bucket of cinematic chum than a vicious, highly-evolved successor to its IP namesake.
Taking place in the present day, Boyd Holbrook, a name pre-packaged for a Predator movie, is US Army Ranger Sniper Quinn McKenna, a name about 85% as good as Boyd Holbrook. While on a mission, he encounters a new predator, who makes quick work of the other members of his team, but not before Quinn manages to take the aliens helmet and fancy space bracer. He ships it to his home as evidence to be kept safe by his son, Rory, an autistic and incredibly gifted boy played by Jacob Tremblay. Quinn is detained because of what he saw by a nondescript government agency led by Traeger, the best character in the movie played by Sterling K. Brown. Traeger also calls in world-renowned biologist Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn), and now the whole band is almost together.
The ensemble is completed by a rowdy group of Army rejects known as Group 2 comprising of different catchy one-named characters like Baxley, Lynch, Coyle, Nettles, and Nebraska. When their bus picks up Quinn and detours to the facility where the visiting predator is heavily sedated, the stage is set for escape, mass death, and lots of blood and entrails. And boy howdy is there a lot of entrails. One thing is for sure, whoever was working the makeup and the practical effects department had tons of fun making fake intestines and got a lot of use out of them.
The swath of kills inflicted on army guys by Predator A, mega-Predator, and Predator doggies fail to be more than a cavalcade of fake gore and welding spark explosions. Any attempt at an actual plot comes off more like a pitch session than an actual fleshed out narrative. The basic gist is predators are harvesting the best DNA from humans in order to evolve themselves into better predators and the first predator we meet is trying to help humanity avoid this fate. It’s the Sci-Fi version of Gregor Rodchenkov working to expose Russian blood-doping but unlike the film IcarusThe Predator won’t be winning any Oscars or Emmys for its tireless commitment to exposing the intergalactic version of Putin and the IOC. Any attempt the movie might have made to attach relevance to it fails since the movie seems to pick up an idea, tell us what it is, then promptly dispose of it as easily as the predator pulls out spinal cords.
The biggest disappointment in The Predator, by far, is Shane Black’s comedic distinctiveness being whited-out when it should have been highlighted and pushing too far when it should have been reigned in. There are a couple standout moments of Black’s humor creating great moments. One particularly great scene is Group 2 placing bets on Brackett’s actions when waking up from a tranquilizer-induced sleep. In this fleeting one-to-two-minute scene, we get a sense of what this movie could have been. Shane Black has always been about blending off-color humor with dark, seedy subject matter. The characters in the movie, especially Group 2 and Trager, are far from boy scouts and feel like characters that belong in a movie by Black. However, the plotting of a movie about an invading alien doesn’t lend itself to delving into his strong suit and it shows in how these rough-edged characters are sanded down into generic background characters and receive unspectacular or overly serious deaths.
The other huge misstep in Black’s comedy is the plot element of Rory’s autism being an evolutionary advancement. There is research recently showing links between autism-linked mutations and the genomic differences of humans to other animals, and to go all-in on this premise would have been fine if the movie had earned it. However, the concerning part of this is the movie’s mishandling of using the word “retard” to describe Rory and then excuse the use of the word. My wife and I both having worked with kids on the spectrum in the past, I find the r-word to be incredibly unfunny and insensitive. The movie making fun of this would be sort of okay with me if the word was held up as deplorable, but it backs off from this as a play for laughs, and it is not funny. While it is only a moment or two of the movie, it curdled whatever goodwill left un-soured by boilerplate action and aimless plotting.
Overall, The Predator is a missed opportunity. It devolves into a boring,  direct-to-DVD action movie and regresses to bad Sci-Fi and unfunny quips. Whatever potential the movie had to make something interesting was lost in either studio meddling or may be the limits of the Predator franchise. At no point does it embrace what made the first Predator so good; ruthless action, little plotting, and piles of suspense. The Predator loves to off people, but only if you are inconsequential to the forward momentum of the movie. Unfortunately, the end result of this movie may be getting offed by an inconsequential box office showing.

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