The Predator ishere to destroy us all—and so is The Predator, one of the more curious movie letdowns of 2018: An action-comedy at once incomprehensible and inconsequential, and so unfun-dumb that its stupidity feels like a contagion. The fact that it was co-written and directed by Shane Black—who sired the Lethal Weapon series, and gave Iron Man 3 its mythos-poking wit—makes The Predator all the more disappointing. Walking out of the theater it's hard not to expect some Murtagh-style sad-sax wailing in the background.
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Black didn't have much of a bar to clear in revisiting the spotty Predator franchise. The jungle-set original was an ‘80s-sleepover classic, one that found Arnold Schwarzenegger hunted by a skin-peeling alien invader. Over the next 30 years, the franchise’s warrior-baddies have taken on LA ganglords (Predator 2), a few ‘morphs (Alien vs. Predator), and Danny Trejo (Predators). None of those sequels were especially mind-blowing, but they each had a few moments of scuzzy fun (Predator 2 is the kind of schlocky ‘90s sequel that plays perfectly on HBO at 2 am). The hope was that Black—who's skilled at both band-of-brothers banter (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and creature-feature thrills (The Monster Squad)—could wisen up, or at least liven up, a series that felt largely uncared for in recent years.
Instead, The Predator is the kind of movie Black’s other movie characters might mock. It begins with an alien ship landing in the jungles of Earth, and following some on-the-ground bloodbaths, a renegade sniper (Logan’s Boyd Holbrook) picks up some spare Predator gear, which he ships back home to the United States. Soon, multiple Predators are loose in the suburbs, as are a few Predator-dogs, which look like they just wandered in from a Doom patch somebody downloaded off a BBS in 1995. The aliens’ opposition consists of biologist (Olivia Munn) and a group of gung-ho nutcases who are so thinly rendered their various tics may as well be their handles: There’s Guy Who Smokes a Lot (Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes); Guy Who Make Crass Jokes (Keegan-Michael Key); and Guy Who Chews Nicorette Yet Barks Like He’s Not Getting Enough Nicorette (Sterling K. Brown). Black, usually an ace quipper, arms all of them with some of the dopier lines of his career:
CHARACTER 1: “Can I interest you in getting the fuck out of here?”
CHARACTER 2: “‘Getting the Fuck Out of Here’ is my middle name!”
CHARACTER 1: “And I thought ‘Gaylord’ was bad!”
At this point in the movie, it’s already been revealed that one characters’ middle name is Gaylord. Not sure if that helps the joke, which is—unfortunately—one of the better ones in the movie.
If The Predator was merely a dumb movie about dumb people, it would be forgivable, or at least negligible—a decent diversion for 15 minutes or so, before you zip to the next VOD selection without ever looking back. But more than even the troubled Solo, Black’s movie exemplifies many of the problems with 21st-century corporate filmmaking, in which the demands of the franchise supersede the most basic needs of the viewers. Like most straining sequels, it mashes together comfort-food callbacks to the original films (to keep old fans happy) with upgraded narrative reveals (to keep the saga going). That’s not essentially a bad combo, but in The Predator the result is a plot that’s somehow both over-explained and under-illuminated, even if you’re taking notes.
The Predator is the kind of movie Shane Black’s other movie characters might mock.
There's also a palpable cheapness to the thing, the result of Fox clearly not knowing whether they want to invest enough to keep the Predator series alive. The CGI blood and guts feel cable-TV chintzy. The editing is so quick and random—clearly, somebody put this through the chopper—that it seems almost obstructionist, as if they’re hiding something far, far worse. And though many of The Predator’s cast members are delightful on TV, this is a movie in need of a movie star—someone with enough pre-earned, screen-filling charisma to at least make its 108-minute running time endurable.
(It’s worth side-noting that Munn has been treated terribly here, both on- and off-screen: In The Predator, she’s forced to strip down while being hunted, and, in one especially gross scene, awakens on a bed surrounded by strange men who are pranking her. That’s nothing compared to her real-life trials surrounding this film, but it gives The Predator an extra layer of ick.)
Ultimately, The Predator is done in by the same trait that made Fantastic Four and Justice League such detestable show-ponies for the franchise era: an utter lack of curiosity. This is a movie that has no discernible interest in its characters nor the world they inhabit; they’re simply poseable zinger-machines. Toward the end of the movie, the remaining humans detain a Predator—a creature they’ve spent the last hour and a half trying to understand. “What are you?” one of the heroes asks the alien. Before the creature can answer—because Predators can now talk to humans, thanks to linguistic software(??)—he simply blasts the thing to death. It’s a moment that reduces The Predator to its core question, one shared by its creators, characters, and intended audience members: Who cares?
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