I have a strong emotional attachment to Predator. It was the first 18 I ever saw, sneakily watched when I was far too young. And the original is a fabulous slice of 80s pulp, a lean action movie that successfully turned the hulking presence of Schwarzenegger into an underdog, by making the threat he faces faster, smarter, and invisible. Yet the series has never managed to recapture the glory of the original. And sadly The Predator again falls short, proving to be an ambitious but muddled attempt at a franchise re-starter.
The movie begins with a spaceship crashing in
The Predator is admirable in that, for at least the first half, it doesn't feel the need to serve as a retread of previous films. There's an interesting angle being played, that sadly gets lost in the noise of the CGI-heavy action scenes. What makes this film particularly frustrating is the talent that is working behind the scenes. Director Shane Black is a talented writer (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight) and a skilled director (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys). And here he is working again with Fred Dekker, who wrote the cult hit The Monster Squad. The pair feel poised to craft a fun throwback to action movies of the past. And yet The Predator more often than not is clunkily written and poorly constructed. Jokes fall flat, the plotting feels needlessly convoluted, and action sequences are messily edited, particularly in the film's final third. The Predator reminded me of some of the worst sci-fi films of the 90s, which we really didn't need a return to. In particular there is a misjudged strain of jokes about Tourettes, while another character's autism essentially evolves into a super power. It all feels so dated.
I feel a part of the missteps of Predator sequels are that they believe there is a rich mythology to be explored with this particular villain and, more importantly, that the audience will be interested in this. Unlike the original Alien, which offered both a lean horror and a fascinating snapshot of a wider, terrifying universe, Predator was most effective as a star vehicle. The Predator builds on its central monster, but not in an interesting way, and serves to dilute the appeal of it in the first place.
Amongst the sound and fury some performances do break through. Boyd Holbrook makes an effective lead, handling the action beats well. Sterling K. Brown has fabulous fun as the film's human antagonist, while Trevante Rhodes is the most successful of the group of soldiers our hero finds himself allied with. Olivia Munn holds her own, but the film really doesn't serve any of its female characters well.
The Predator could have been great, and there are moments when you can see a better film trying to break through. And yet so little of it seems to linger afterwards. The cast are fine, but a number are saddled with poorly written parts from a script that feels confused and dated. In short, the film is a dissatisfying mess, one that just makes you want to go and spend a few hours in the presence of the towering original.