Review: Shane Black's 'The Predator' Hunts for a Story, Heads Home Empty-Handed
by Adam Frazier
September 13, 2018
There's a line in 1987's original Predator movie that sums up the machismo and bravado of '80s action cinema. Blain, played by professional wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura, is a member of an elite military rescue team on a mission to save hostages in guerrilla-held territory. In the aftermath of a jungle-leveling firefight, a fellow soldier informs Blain, "You're hit. You're bleeding, man." With a plug of chewing tobacco in his jaw, the gruff, cocksure commando ripostes, "I ain't got time to bleed." Written by brothers Jim and John Thomas and directed by John McTiernan (of Die Hard), Predator grossed $98 million in its initial release, cementing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s box office bona fides and turning its eponymous antagonist, an extraterrestrial trophy hunter designed by special make-up effects creator Stan Winston, into a sci-fi icon.
The movie spawned two direct sequels — 1990's Predator 2 and 2010's Predators — and inspired countless novel, comic book, video game, and film spin-offs. Now, thirty years after the first movie's release, writer-director Shane Black (Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys), who appeared in Predator as Hawkins, unleashes The Predator, a new entry in the franchise that hopes to capture the thrill of the hunt. The latest sci-fi sequel stars Boyd Holbrook as Quinn McKenna, a retired Special Forces army ranger turned mercenary who has a close encounter with the titular space alien. After his run-in, Quinn snags some of the alien's advanced weaponry as evidence — as no one would believe his outlandish story otherwise — and mails the gear back home to his estranged wife (Yvonne Strahovski) and son (Jacob Tremblay of Room).
Quinn is taken in for mandatory debriefing by Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), head of Project Stargazer, an agency dedicated to protecting the planet from an alien incursion. To keep Quinn quiet, Traeger puts him on a bus with the rest of the "Loonies" — various military veterans suffering from PTSD who are mentally unfit for service. This dirty half-dozen of outcasts includes: Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes), Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), Baxley (Thomas Jane), Lynch (Alfie Allen), and Nettles (Augusto Aguilera). Traeger, meanwhile, recovers the alien and transports it to a top-secret government site where it will be studied by evolutionary biologist Dr. Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn). Turns out the Predator race — the Yautja, for diehard fans — are attempting hybridization with humans and other lifeforms to create the ultimate hunter.
While somewhat intriguing, the concept of the Predator genetically "upgrading" itself using human DNA is completely illogical. For starters, we're smaller, dumber, and weaker than Predators. Secondly, any humans that were skilled enough to defeat a Predator — Schwarzenegger's Dutch, Danny Glover's Mike Harrigan — didn't have their spinal cords ripped out, so the Predators didn't collect their spinal fluid for their own experimentation. Basically, the galaxy's most skilled sportsmen are shooting up with stepped-on, bargain basement DNA. Anyway, as you can imagine, things don't go so great at the research facility. In the only truly awesome sequence, the Predator breaks loose, grabs a few weapons, and eviscerates roughly a hundred soldiers and scientists before the real villain of the movie shows up: a ten-foot-tall, computer-generated Upgrade Predator.
Like the Newborn in Alien: Resurrection and the Predalien in Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, the "Upgrade Predator" is the latest abomination in cinema's long-standing history of poorly conceptualized hybrid monsters. Nimród Antal's Predators introduced the Super Predator, a bigger, stronger sub-species of the race. The Upgrade takes this concept even further, attempting to win the dick-measuring contest that is this franchise once and for all. Like the Super Predator, the Upgrade uses alien hunting dogs, but what separates it from its less-swole brethren is that it has an exoskeleton buried under its skin, meaning it no longer needs additional armor; it's the ideal genetic warrior. It's this universe's version of Jurassic World's Indominus Rex and Indoraptor — another lazy, cynical mashup that exists solely so someone in marketing can say, "This ain't your daddy's Predator!"
The cherry on top of the disappointment sundae is the fact that the Upgrade is one-hundred percent CGI. It's just a big ol' shiny pixel monster — it doesn't act like a Predator at all, much less a highly evolved version of the species. The Upgrade just kind of grunts a lot and lumbers around like Doomsday from Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It's unfortunate because this is a franchise built on incredible practical effects and iconic designs. Say what you will about Predators and its Super Predators, but at least that movie has fantastic creature suits and visual effects by KNB EFX's Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero. The Predators feel like living, breathing organisms because they were physically on set, in front of the camera, interacting with the environment and the other actors in the scene. The Upgrade never feels real, so it's never scary.
The original regulation-size Predator in Shane Black's movie, however, is beautifully realized by Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. who worked with Stan Winston on the original. Inside the suit is Brian Prince, a six foot, nine-and-a-half inch tall parkour artist making his acting debut. Prince brings a lot of physicality to the part, but his character ultimately takes a backseat to the human characters and their mutual enemy. Speaking of the humans, Black has assembled one hell of a cast here. Unfortunately, the script, co-written by Shane Black and Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, The Monster Squad), isn't interested in giving them compelling characters to play as much as super funny lines of dialogue to deliver. No one turns in a bad performance, they just don't have anything to say or do that you haven't seen in a Predator movie before.
Black's also dead-set on reminding you of all the better, more memorable Predator movies that came before it. Holbrook's mercenary sniper is an amalgam of Adrien Brody and Alice Braga's characters from Predators. Brown's CIA stooge is the Great Value™ brand version of Carl Weathers' Dillon. Key and Jane's characters have the same dynamic as Mac and Blain. Trevante Rhodes screams, "Get to the chopper!" It's like Predator, but all the characters talk like Shane Black's Hawkins, complete with pussy jokes. And then there's Tremblay's Rory, who stands in for the kid from Iron Man 3, but with a Predator helmet and wrist gauntlet instead of Iron Man's tech. Jake Busey shows up briefly for a cameo as the son of Peter Keyes, Gary Busey's character from Predator 2, so that's neat, I guess.
The Predator isn't an awful movie, nor is it the worst film to feature the extraterrestrial character — that distinction still belongs to Requiem — but it's certainly the franchise's most frustrating. It isn't scary, it doesn't expand the mythology, and it's far too reliant on black humor and forced callbacks to tell a story that's actually about something. If the original movie is the summation of '80s action cinema, then The Predator encapsulates today's worst blockbuster cash-grabs: find a profitable property from the '80s, slap together a safe, nostalgia-heavy screenplay that rehashes familiar concepts, and make setting up a sequel a priority instead of delivering a satisfying story that resonates with audiences. This is 20th Century Fox's third stab at reviving the Predator franchise, and each attempt does more harm than good. As Dutch says, "If it bleeds, we can kill it." Like the Alien franchise, it looks like Fox won't stop until they bleed this series dry and kill off any interest in this iconic character for good.
Adam's Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Follow Adam on Twitter - @AdamFrazier
Reader Feedback - 26 Comments
Right. Because people are going to see a Predator movie for the riveting story. What's your next review? "White Boy Rick is a great film, but lacks true comedic timing, and the romantic comedy the audience is expecting is nowhere to be found." - Adam Frazier
Bellicose Aries on Sep 13, 2018
Did you read the actual review or just the headline?
Efterklang on Sep 13, 2018
Well, that's like... his opinion man. Go throw your money at this if you want. No one's stopping you.
THE_RAW_ on Sep 13, 2018
News flash...the original Predator movie had a riveting story.
Have Hope on Sep 13, 2018
THIS...is exactly what I was worried about. When I read about the "hybrid" predator I immediately thought: "WHY?!?". Thanks for taking the hit on this Adam. I'll save my $$$ and wait for a boring night to watch it on Netflix/cable.
THE_RAW_ on Sep 13, 2018
Even though I pretty much know what I'm in store for, I'm still going to see it in the theater. I'm a sucker for the franchise, always will be.
grimjob on Sep 13, 2018
How was it @grimjob:disqus ?
THE_RAW_ on Sep 20, 2018
Haven't had the chance yet, but I have plans to meet up with a friend tonight to go see it. I'll let you know, but I'm sure we both already know how it is.
grimjob on Sep 20, 2018
Just got back a little while ago. What a fucking mess. It was completely nonsensical. Terribly edited, things just kept happening, no real time to breathe. Action scene after action scene spliced together with ridiculous exposition and overly-witty yet not really funny banter. Most of the cast did pretty well, had some good chemistry, but had nothing to do. At the end, I started zoning out because it had gone completely off the rails. I just didn't care what was happening. Despite it trying desperately to be some big action extravaganza, as they all do these days, it was so goddamn boring. I wasn't expecting much more than dumb fun, but I didn't expect to be so let down.
grimjob on Sep 21, 2018
That's tough going in with low expectations and to have them completely not even register near where you were expecting them to. I had the exact same feeling with "Justice League". I turned it off because I couldn't stomach it and I vowed never to pitch my hard earned money to any more DCEU or reboots/sequels that didn't "feel" right from the trailer. Here's hoping in another two years, someone will do it right. lol
THE_RAW_ on Sep 24, 2018
Never even bothered with that one. BvS was awful, and JL looked worse, so I had no interest. Same with Aquaman. I've got a good feeling about Halloween though, which is a lot more than I could say about The Predator.
grimjob on Sep 24, 2018
Finally watched this and had to come see if you had posted about it as well... you didn't let me down, bro. I tried posting a review on IMDB but I have the feeling they're censoring it by not posting it. The short of the long of it was that it was like the constant down of a roller coaster without any ups. No tension or anything just go go GO! The first Predator: I ain't got time to bleed. This one: I ain't got time to tell a story
syntaxterror on Nov 28, 2018
Dammit, I almost forgot that movie existed. Now I'm angry again. Good to hear from you though. God it was fucking garbage.
grimjob on Nov 29, 2018
they finally posted my review... you should have a laugh: https://www.imdb.com/review/rw4484370/?ref_=ur_urv I also feel more angry about the movie the more I think about it.
syntaxterror on Dec 1, 2018
Well put. The wet dream comment was spot on. After I saw the new Halloween, my friend and I were out in the parking lot talking about it, and I mentioned how happy I was it didn't completely let me down like The Predator. He got this confused look on his face, so I told him that I actually hated it. After we had seen it together, he was all about how "fun it was", but I remember I was unsure of how I felt about it, still had to process. It took me a couple days to realize how much I fucking despised it. Goddamn I had total faith in Shane Black. But, as I said, at least Halloween didn't let me down. For the most part.
grimjob on Nov 30, 2018
no doubt. I think every five minutes into the movie I found myself going "really?" and getting increasingly frustrated. Haven't seen the new Halloween yet but it's on the docket for sure.
syntaxterror on Dec 1, 2018
That 2.5 is generous. I fucking hated it. Too much comedy. This isn't a predator movie. You needed an Arnold or Danny Glover type character and Boyd Holbrook wasn't it.
tyban81 on Sep 13, 2018
Honestly, it is a tad too generous, but I gave Alien: Covenant a 2 and I hated that one way more than this so I had to even it out a little. The only logical place for these movies to go is the Predator homeworld - tell a story about these two clans w/ only 1-2 humans in it. Show us a female predator, a predator child on its first hunt - do something new! Expand the mythology!
Adam Frazier on Sep 14, 2018
That's a brilliant concept! You're hired @thefraze:disqus! Here's the working titles: "Predator: Origins" or "Predator: CIVIL WAR".
THE_RAW_ on Sep 14, 2018
Thanks for taking the hit man. I'm sorry it sucked.
THE_RAW_ on Sep 14, 2018
Oh no! This sucks. I was hoping for a fun cheesy flick, but damn!!! 2.5?! So sad.
DAVIDPD on Sep 13, 2018
I am staying WELL away from this.
Have Hope on Sep 13, 2018
I agree the story could have been better and yes it is not as good as Predator obviously. It is also not as good as Predator 2. Having said that out of the 10 Predator/Alien movies it is Top 5 and wayyyyy better than Predators 2010.
AgileBear on Sep 13, 2018
It is absolutely 100% NOT. Predators was a gem. A damn good movie and a great flip on what made the first movie work. It had a brain to it and something to say, quite frankly moreso than the original in that regard. Great cast, great mix of personalities, damn fine twist at the end. This movie doesn't even compare to what Predators accomplished in any way.
NeronWillRise on Sep 15, 2018
Yeah, can't I'm the least bit surprised about how this turned out.
JohnDoeB on Sep 15, 2018
Just saw the movie today. Being such a huge fan of the original, I had to see it despite the overwhelming negative reviews. I was optimistic with Shane Black at the helm that new life would be given to this franchise...what a disappointment.
CShane on Sep 16, 2018
Sorry, new comments are no longer allowed.