Director: Shane Black
Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Jacob Tremblay, Olivia Munn, Sterling K Brown, Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, Trevante Rhodes
Words – Nathan Scatcherd
When Shane Black was announced as the director of the new film in the Predator franchise, it seemed like a simultaneously strange and fitting choice. After all, he’s mostly well known for placing his quip-heavy, machine gun paced smartass dialogue in distinctly comedic settings; but then, he has a particular intimacy with the series, having appeared in the first movie all the way back in ’87.
The idea of a Predator movie balancing dark humour with good old-fashioned spine-ripping action, propelled by Black’s signature witty character interplay, was an appealing one. It still is an appealing one… but unfortunately, the film we have doesn’t quite realise the vision.
The Predator has individual moments which work well, and some interesting concepts which could have been really compelling if fleshed out properly. The film’s main issue is not a lack of new ideas, but quite the opposite – it feels bloated to the point of nigh-incomprehensibility, spinning the plates of various barely related subplots in a choppily edited, manically paced mess of sheer ‘stuff’.
A new upgraded species of Predator! A motley crew of mentally ill military hardcases! Our hero’s autistic son, who figures out how to use Predator technology and becomes their target! Shady government types! Olivia Munn’s intrepid scientist! Predator dogs!
Studio interference and reshoots on this film have been common knowledge for a while now, and they really show. The plot is a mess, the whole film playing less like a single cogent storyline than a bunch of scattershot subplots, none of which are allowed the time to feel cohesive or engaging. It’s hard not to suspect that this is the result of mashing together three or four drafts of the script and simply hoping some of it would stick.
Even on a technical level, The Predator is occasionally shockingly bad. It has an over-reliance on CGI blood and gore effects which rob the action scenes of any impact. The much ballyhooed ‘upgraded’ Predator, the result of gene-splicing in an attempt to create the ultimate version of the species, looks like a video game character in any shot where it’s seen clearly, and remains less interesting than the ‘classic’ Predator in every way.
The film’s action is honestly baffling in how terribly it’s shot and edited. The confusing blocking and geography of some sequences – particularly one towards the end, a forest face-off clearly intending to evoke the first movie, and thereby some goodwill – makes it very difficult to follow what’s happening, and who it’s happening to. One character’s death happens so quickly and feels so inconsequential that I actually didn’t realise he had died until another character mentioned it later.
Yes, there are a couple of things to like; the film has fun with nods to the other instalments in the series, repurposing a couple of well-known lines from the original and giving a huge knowing wink as it does so.
As this is a Shane Black movie, the dialogue makes for some amusing moments (particularly a gag about the factual inaccuracy of calling a Predator a ‘predator’; it’s both funny and makes a good point I’d never personally considered). Everybody is clearly having a blast in this movie, with Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Jane in particular getting in a couple of good jokes, in between bouts of running around shooting and swearing at each other. Sterling K Brown as an amoral government agent steals every scene he’s in, and I would bet money on there being a draft of this film’s script somewhere with Olivia Munn’s scientist as the lead. I would also bet it’s a superior movie; Munn brings smarts and a sense of humour to the role, which play off well against the other characters.
However, the film makes some weird choices in regards to the young, autistic son of Boyd Holbrook’s ‘hero’. The portrayal of autism here seems to be coming from a place of positivity and acceptance, which is of course a good thing, but the film almost goes so far to the extreme of venerating this character (simply for having autism) that it only succeeds in propagating the ‘othering’ of people on the spectrum.
In the world of The Predator, autism is treated as a kind of superpower, something the Predators admire and want for themselves in their splicing experiments… yeah, I’m not making any of this up. Ultimately they want to kidnap an autistic child so they can take his autism. Yikes. The film’s general treatment of mental health – with the scarred military team referring to themselves as ‘Loonies’ and ‘retarded’ – is cavalier to the point of feeling a few years out of time, and the film’s unsure tone makes certain intended jokes at the expense of how ‘crazy’ these guys are just feel mean-spirited instead of funny.
There is also of course the current scandal overshadowing the film’s release, regarding Shane Black casting a registered sex offender (Steve Wilder) in this film without having told other cast members.
Olivia Munn spoke out about it, the scene between her and Wilder was cut, and she subsequently seems to have been thrown under the bus and made to feel like a troublemaker. This has been more of a talking point so far than anything that actually happens in the movie, and makes any hopes one might have of a direct sequel under Black’s direction seem even more optimistic than the film’s cringeworthy wet squib of a ‘teaser’ ending.