Part brutal action film, part quirky comedy, regardless of how you divide it, there’s no denying that The Predator is 100 percent a Shane Black film, albeit one of his most uneven directorial efforts in some time. This latest chapter in the Predator universe feels like there are two movies happening simultaneously, often at odds with each other, but as a whole, there are a lot of aspects to The Predator that really won me over as a longtime fan of this series. It may not be nearly as polished at the original Predator, but Black still delivers up an experience that’s far more entertaining than either Alien vs. Predator movie (and I say that as someone who genuinely likes the first one), and manages to find new ways to build on the mythology of the eponymous creatures, without ever feeling like he’s shoe-horning in ideas just to change things up for a new generation of fans. Suffice to say, The Predator may be something of a mess, but it’s an entertaining mess nonetheless.
The Predator kicks off with a sniper named Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), who comes across a Predator and his spacecraft while out on a mission in Mexico. Realizing that this intergalactic run-in puts him in a precarious position with the government, McKenna ships some evidence of the alien’s existence home, not realizing that in doing so, he’s putting his estranged son (Jacob Tremblay) and wife (Yvonne Strahovski) in harm’s way. Once he’s taken into custody alongside a pack of troubled ex-military soldiers (including the likes of Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, Trevante Rhodes, and Augusto Aguilera), McKenna realizes that the creature he encountered in Mexico is now in close proximity, and the ragtag band of soldiers have to put a stop to the Predator before all hell breaks loose. There’s also a subplot involving Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and Project Stargazer, where Olivia Munn’s character, Casey Bracket, who specializes in studying biological engineering, is brought in to analyze the creature that was captured in Mexico, but after there’s an attack at the governmental hideout, Casey ends up joining McKenna’s squad, putting Munn’s character right in the thick of everything.
I won’t try and pretend that The Predator doesn’t have its fair share of issues, because it does, but as a whole, the hits far outweighed the misses for me, and there are several set pieces that are absolutely badass, plus, I really enjoyed the ways that Black and co-writer Fred Dekker not only tip their hats to the first two Predator films, but also manage to pull out a few new tricks that really work in favor of the eponymous alien beings, making them into something more interesting than just cool-looking mercenaries from outer space that love to take human skeletons as their trophies.
These new concepts are introduced in a very clever way as well—so many times we get these new reveals that are established several movies into a franchise, and in a lot of cases, I tend to roll my eyes as a fan because it all feels just a little too convenient. But for The Predator, it all really works, and I genuinely geeked out as a fan at several moments, especially the film’s multiple mentions of the iconic character being more of a “hunter” than a “predator” (a nod to the fact that the first Predator movie had actually been given the working title Hunter before it was changed during pre-production).
Also, The Predator introduces us to the concept of Predator Puppies (in a much bigger way than we saw in Predators), and I immediately fell in love with these cosmic canine creatures and want one for myself immediately.
As far as the performances go, everyone seems to be having fun in The Predator, and Black allows his ensemble a few isolated moments for each of them to shine, but admittedly, the choppiness of the on-screen story never really allows most of these characters to resonate in a way that we’ve seen in the Predator films that preceded it, which is a shame considering the talent Black has assembled here. That being said, I thought both Munn and Rhodes were the standouts in The Predator and make the most of their respective screen time.
On the technical side of things, that’s where The Predator really earns its stripes, with cinematographer Larry Fong (Kong: Skull Island, Watchmen, 300, and he even lensed R.E.M.’s "Losing My Religion" music video back in the early 1990s) perfectly capturing the frenetic fights whenever the film’s alien antihero springs into action. The stunt choreography in the film is excellent, and the sound design plays an essential role in The Predator, too. Also, the folks over at StudioADI (spearheaded by co-founders Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr.) should be commended with their practical effects work on The Predator, as it is some of the best creature work we’ve seen in the franchise since the original back in 1987, and I really dug the slight enhancements to the design of the Predator that are just wonderfully done. It also helps how well Fong shoots the alien antagonists coupled with the great effects, because all the details look really crisp, and it’s just nice to see a DP who understands how to celebrate creature work properly.
As a whole, there’s no denying that The Predator squanders some of its potential (the fact that Jake Busey’s character is directly related to his dad’s character from Predator 2, but it never goes anywhere broke my heart a little), often loses its focus, and tosses away through lines in its story. But as a showcase for its titular badass(es), as well as a brutally fun slice of action horror, Black certainly hits those proverbial nails on their heads, and his various homages to the first two Predator movies filled me with several moments of pure geek-tastic joy.
Movie Score: 3/5