In 1987, Predator was released. Though not acclaimed at the time, it soon gained a strong fanbase and critical re-evaluation. Whilst one might initially dismiss it as a typical 80’s action flick, the great tension, clever writing, fantastic creature effects, and simplicity, make Predator both an entertaining Schwarzenegger film and a genuinely great film. This led to the creation of a franchise, consisting of comic books, video games and two sequels in Predator 2 and Predators. Whilst both sequels were satisfactory, neither topped the original.
But after a period of dormancy, Iron Man 3’s Shane Black has returned to write and direct a new entry, which is fitting as he acted in the first film. Given Black’s strong resume in scriptwriting and directing, you would think that we would have a winner with the latest rendition of Predator. Unfortunately, we have a loser instead. A gigantic, disappointing loser.
On present day earth, a Predator spaceship crashes after being chased by a bigger ship. Quinn Mckenna (Boyd Holbrook) encounters the spaceship whilst on a military mission and finds the Predator’s equipment. He sends it to his house but is soon captured and imprisoned with a group of “loonies” aka crazed soldiers that have also been imprisoned. Scientist Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn) is brought in by agent Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) to examine the captured Predator, but it soon escapes, going after its equipment, which is in the possession of Mckenna’s autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay). Mckenna and the loonies team up with Brackett and try to rescue Rory, but soon find out that the Predator is being hunted by something bigger.
The plot is generic, with no twists or turns, no interesting directions taken in the Predator universe and a feeling of pointlessness in the grand franchise. This could have been forgiven if the plot was well constructed, but that ends up being disastrous. The storytelling and editing are some of the sloppiest I’ve seen in a while. Right from the start, the pacing is so fast that there is barely time for a build-up. Scenes barely flow together and there are several jarring cuts that make the story feel incoherent. Little things are noticeable, like a pointless sunglasses continuity error or characters suddenly appearing in vehicles out of nowhere. The editing is so fast that it makes what should be a major death scene abrupt and forgettable. All these moments show strong signs of studio interference, which is baffling given how Black has earned an auteur status by now.
The characters also fail to add anything to the story due to a lack of development and most of them could easily be removed from the film. They are all fodder for either exposition or jokes. There are also some awful portrayals of mental health issues. Rory’s autism is taken in a stereotypical direction by saying that it makes him: “the next step in human evolution”. One of the loonies, Baxley (Thomas Jane), has Tourettes and anger issues, which is uncomfortably mined for laughs instead of being taken seriously. The acting is decent, but many of them are not given enough to do. Holbrook and Munn are generic and neither actor convinces as a lead. Tremblay and Brown get off better due to putting effort into stock roles. The actors playing the loonies are entertaining enough, but Alfie Allen, Yvonne Strahovski and Jake Busey (who has a connection to a past character that goes unacknowledged) are completely wasted.
The only good thing about this film is the comedy. Black is a master of comedic banter and here it is the only thing that manages to be entertaining. The characters have decent interplay with each other and there are a few clever visual gags. There are also some other fun minor call-backs that fans will appreciate. But these aspects fail to distract from the biggest problem: how brainless it is. Even if someone wants to excuse the crippling flaws by calling this film “fun”, it could have been so much more if the script had depth, or if it tried to be more intentionally ridiculous. The Predator has neither of these pros and all the cons of a lacklustre attempt at both styles. The direction is rather poor, featuring bland and uncreative action that lacks any tension or weight. The urban night setting does not help, as despite Larry Fong trying his best, he cannot make it look appealing. The boring action reaches its apex during a barely visible third act woods shootout and a ridiculous OTT climax. Overall, the production is uninspired and rote, with a generic studio blockbuster tentpole feel all throughout.
The Predator is 2018’s biggest disappointment and is one of the worst blockbusters of the year. The generic story, awful plotting and poor production value makes this the worst Predator film to date. The waste of talent and energy makes these flaws sting even harder and I can only hope that Black’s next film is much better.