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
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