The Predator is easily my most anticipated movie of 2018. It feels like it has been forever in the works: with an initial release date for spring 2018, which then drifted back to September this year. However, behind the excitement lurked a trepidation as well – and the news of reshoots and plot issues only heightened my sense of concern. Surely, though, Shane Black of Iron Man 2 and The Nice Guys could pull this off? Of course, any Predator fan will also recognise Black from his role in the original Predator. He’s made plain that he is a fan of the franchise, and early hype certainly spoke of a refresh of the original concept. Read on – but beware: there are spoilers in beyond…
The Predator opens with a chase through deep space. Two Predator ships are duelling it out, until one escapes to Earth. The ship crash-lands in Cuba, where Captain Quinn McKenna (played by Boyd Holbrook) is on an operation. He comes face to face with a Predator – managing to steal some of its tech, and post the items back home in the US. His son intercepts the package; finding these Predator items and trying to decode the alien’s technology. Meanwhile, the mysterious Project Stargazer has also been tracking the Predators, and arrives in Cuba, capturing the lone Predator. Casey Bracket (played by Olivia Munn) is recruited to assist with understanding the Predator, which is kept in confinement in a secret military base. Quinn is brought to this base, where he is put together with a group of similarly disgraced military personnel. But the Predator will not remain confined, and it is not the only hunter on Earth…
The Predator has some strong action sequences, and there are some decent effects. The first twenty or so minutes are pretty impressive: from the starship chase sequence (which was too short, but still cool), to McKenna’s introduction, through to the Predator getting loose at the Stargazer facility. The so-called “Fugitive” Predator is awesome – taking he classic Predator look, and putting a spin on it. The sequence when the Predator escapes from Stargazer was amazing; it really shows how the actual premise of the bad-ass intergalactic hunter is still sound. The effects work on the Fugitive were great, and I loved the new armour kit. There’s a tense moment with Olivia Munn’s character in a decontamination suite which works really well, and again highlights the Predator’s honour code.
However, The Predator is much weaker than its individual components. Taken together, it’s inconsistent, confused and – at times – confusing. There are many internet theories as to how and why the film went so wrong (take this article, as a starting point), and I don’t know who should shoulder the blame (if that’s even the right phrase) for the film’s faults, but needless to say – this is not a worthy successor to Predator, Predator 2 or Predators.
I’ll start with what bugged me most. I’m a hardcore Predator fan, and so some of this may not bother the casual viewer, but I feel like I have to get it off my chest, so just bear with me! The Predator clearly wants to expand on Predator lore. That’s an honourable objective; in previous instalments, we’ve seen glimpses of Predator culture but not much more than that. Why are the Predators here? What do they want? Why do they hunt? These are all questions that have been posed of the Predator franchise. But aren’t some questions better left just unanswered? I had the same feeling from The Predator as I got from Alien: Covenant – the expansion of Predator mythology feels very similar to Scott’s explanation for the creation of the xenomorph. In short, the canon explanation for the Predators coming to Earth is much less interesting than the earlier films suggests. Rather than honouring the previous Predator films, this one runs roughshod over them. It demystifies the Predator, and by uncloaking it, the creature become little more than a man in a suit – with objectives that are the same as those of many other alien races.
The two big issues for me were the suggestion of Predators “upgrading” their DNA on every planet they visit, and the Super Predator itself. Both of these ideas were arguably introduced in Predators, but The Predator irrevoicably codifies them in a very disappointing way. Did you know, for example, that the Predators apparently take spines because they draw out spinal fluid to upgrade their own biologies? No, neither did I. That plainly was not the reason for the hunts in earlier films.
Next, we have this weird, huge mutant Predator which literally hulks over all others. I guess you could say this Super Predator was a relative of Berserker from Predators, but it felt totally out of place. It sprouts armour, without explanation, and can take a round of bullets without problem. Instantly, the idea that the Predator must rely on stealth to achieve its objective is gone. This Predator doesn’t so much hunt as just wade into combat – throwing enemies aside, absorbing huge amounts of damage, and moving on. Where’s the threat, or the suspense, of the original hunter? It doesn’t even have damned mask… I guess this guy is supposed to be “the” Predator of the title, which is bizarre in a way: the film felt like it began to slide after the focus shifted to this new creature. The Predator hellhounds also make a comeback, but even that idea is executed unsuccessfully. The beasties from Predators were deadly, spiky horrors, used to flush out their master’s prey. The big, cuddly failures of The Predator look more like dogs with Predator heads; losing any sense of threat almost as soon as they arrive on screen.
The tone of the film is variable. It has the feel of an 80s creature-feature at times; being intensely violent one moment, then laugh-out-loud the next. An injection humour to a film like this is often a good thing – Predator has its fair share of laughs – but the humour here approaches the line of parody. The juxtapose between intense action, strangely-lengthy talk scenes, and then McKenna’s kid – who plays a pivotal role in overcoming the new Super Predator – felt jarring and uncomfortable. That last comment might’ve been remedied by more “link” scenes, but the film has been cut to the bone in terms of run-time. Many, many scenes just jump from one event to the next, without any explanation or context for the viewer.
As to the casting, Boyd’s McKenna had potential to be a pretty good lead; I also enjoyed the Looneys, and the banter among this group was one of the more successful humorous elements of the film. Most of the Looneys were interesting, although I would’ve written them as a pre-existing military team. I didn’t think that Olivia Munn fit into the film at all. Maybe it’s the script, maybe it’s her role generally, but her reaction to the Predator and the horrifying scenarios in which she was placed just came across as flat. She just felt completely wrong for this role. As to her character, the deductive leaps that she makes throughout the film are just completely unconvincing. Meanwhile, McKenna’s child (played by Jacob Tremblay) is totally at odds with the intended theme and tone of the movie.
I can’t leave this review without commenting on the final scene of the film. This is obviously supposed to solve the mystery of the Fugitive, but it is utterly bizarre. From the CGI, to the acting, to the entire feel: the film’s last scene will leave you utterly confused. Yeah, it seems that Iron Man is part of the Predator universe now…
I really, really wanted to like The Predator. I wanted this film to succeed, but I’m disappointed to say that it feels like a disjointed mess. There are elements in here that work, and work very well. The first twenty minutes were pretty great. The rest was fun, but I can’t say more than that.