Review: The Predator

The Predators is back on earth. Ten times as ripped, ten times as deadly. Once again a group of soldiers will protect us. Ten times as macho, ten times as crazy. The Predator is here! The sequel steroids have been injected. It’s loud, it’s fun, it’s a bit of a mess.

Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is an Army Ranger sniper with a mission. Free the hostages and assassinate the enemy. An easy mission for a man of McKenna’s talents. However, things go very wrong as an alien spaceship falls out of the sky. McKenna is now on the run from both an invisible turning killer-alien, a Predator, and a mysterious group of government agents who know something they aren’t telling. To make things worse, McKenna’s autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) has gotten his hands on an alien computer and sent a signal into outer space. Another Predator is on his way and this one is ten times as dangerous. It’s Halloween and the only way for McKenna to save his son and kill the invaders is to employ the help of five dishonoured soldiers. The bad news, they’re all crazy. The good news, they love shooting.

The sixth movie appearance of the camouflaging extraterrestrial hunter was originally planned as a franchise reboot, but instead became a sequel to 1990s Predator 2, offering the means to reference past films. Among the large supporting cast are Sterling K. Brown (This is Us), Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones), Thomas Jane (Boogie Nights), Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele) and Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight). Boyd Holbrook (Narcos) took the lead as Quin McKenna after Benicio Del Toro departed the project due to scheduling issues. However, the star isn’t Holbrook, nor the talented Jacob Tremblay (Room). The real star of The Predator is the film’s accomplished director and cast member from the original 1987 Predator, Shane Black.

Shocking violence, hilarious sarcasm, male friendship and Christmas! The core elements of a Shane Black film. They can be found among all his directorial accomplishments, from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, over Iron Man 3, to The Nice Guys. And now within The Predator. With one big exception. This Shane Black film is a Halloween movie. The sight of Christmas trees, joyous decoration and lonely men retrospecting their lives is replaced by fallen leaves and kids in monster costumes, while actual monsters are in the woods preparing for the hunt. The problem is, it’s not that scary.

Newest Sequel The Predator contains several tense monster-movie scenes, in which characters are running and hiding from man-slaughtering aliens. However, none of these come remotely close to the suffocating dread of the defenceless soldiers staring into the jungle that seems to be coming alive to slaughter them, in the original Predator. This lack of effective horror could be caused by The Predator’s aliens appearing quite early in the film, while the alien in Predator remains mystified until the last half hour of the movie. Possibly, but there is another factor in keeping the audience from hiding behind their chairs. Excessive humour.

Humour is an intricate part of Black’s movies, most commonly found in the sarcastic banter of their characters. The Predator doesn’t fall short on this, as the soldiers seem to communicate mostly through derogatory jokes. Every character always seems to have the perfect sarcastic comeback and that is no exception for when they are in deadly combat with creatures from outer space. It is hard to take a predator ripping apart a man serious, gallons of CGI blood gushing all over the place if it happens between two pussy-jokes. These two elements just don’t compliment each other and as a result, the tonality is off. Jokes don’t only seem to replace tension, but also the depth of characters. Shane Black’s usual protagonists are defined by weakness and inner turmoil (even superhero Iron Man). It is this weakness that makes these characters more relatable and heroic once they prove themselves to be heroes within the third act. The Predator’s lead McKenna is an excellent soldier. He might get called a bad family man, but this is barely palpable as he spends the whole film trying to protect friends and family. The only real sense of endearment comes from his son Rory, who’s autism makes him a victim to society and more compelling than men running, shooting, killing and joking. However, once the third act occurs, Rory becomes not more than a passive character to be saved. The smallest amount of logical human depth can be seen in the predators, as the first invader seems to radically change his motivations for coming to earth, halfway to the movie. A space invader should know why it’s invading.

All the insensitive humour and lack of depth give the movie a scattershot feeling way beneath the usual confidence of Shane Black. This could be due to Black not being accustomed to this type of semi-blockbuster horror filmmaking or perhaps to limitations set by 20th Century Fox. Perhaps it was only me, the humble viewer, who is reminiscing towards the films of 1987, a time when blockbusters embraced more unique and interesting elements. Whatever it is, The Predator isn’t, in the fullest sense, working. Or is it?

After realizing The Predator had neither a solid replica of Predator’s tension nor the self-assured recognizable style of Shane Black’s usual work, I just sank into my chair and accepted that my expectations weren’t going to be fulfilled. It was at that point that I started to really enjoy myself. I started to see that this film shows an understanding and love for the elements of 80s action cinema. A Cinema that loved tough, adrenalin-fueled heroes that laugh at the sight of danger, whether their gory creatures, smooth-talking terrorists or robots from the future. The chaos or sci-fi worlds is tamed by likeable strong characters with a sense of humour. So although this film lacks confidence and a consistent tone, The Predator made me forgive its mediocre filmmaking with its intelligently over the top characters and enjoyable action.