The “Predator” franchise is one of those series that some believe has gone on too long and others wish had a new installment every few years. While often seen as a companion franchise to “Alien” (in fact two crossover movies were made exploring this relationship) the “Predator” movies have been less popular that the “Alien” films and there have been fewer “Predator” films released to date. That said it’s been eight years since the previous movie “Predators” debuted in 2010 and 20th Century Fox saw fit to produce a new project based on the eponymous alien hunters. Thus we have “The Predator”, the fourth film in the “Predator” franchise and sixth to feature the character on the big screen. Directed and co-written by Shane Black, who played one of the soldiers in the original film, “The Predator” is one of those odd sequels that was demanded but some question if it’s really needed. So does this film succeed in bringing the “Predator” series new life or is it the waste of time some believed it would inevitably be? Let’s take a closer look. This is my review of “The Predator”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“The Predator” takes place years after the first two films as a Predator crash lands on Earth while being chased by a hybridized and advanced Assassin Predator through space. The first Predator’s ship crashes on Earth and the creature’s escape pod is found by Army Ranger Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) who procures one of the creature’s gauntlets and its helmet as well as a device that allows him to turn invisible. Quinn sends the helmet and gauntlet to his autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) for safekeeping before being arrested and sentenced to psychological evaluation with other misfit soldiers. Meanwhile scientist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is called in by Predator expert Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) to help research the captured Predator but they soon learn the aliens may be collecting specimens to produce a super race of Predators using the DNA of humans and other creatures. As the superior Assassin Predator arrives friend and foe come together to try and fight off a threat stronger than ever before.
So I’m going to be blunt…this movie is just so…bland I guess is the word I’m going to use. I didn’t despise it but I have no reason to ever watch it again. The acting for me is a big part of that. “The Predator” sports an extremely bland script (I’ll touch on that more later) which doesn’t really allow any character’s personality to shine. The cast isn’t horrible really. You’ve got Boyd Holbrook who played a great villain in “Logan” and takes on an anti-hero role here. Olivia Munn is a capable actress when she’s actually given good material and underrated performers like Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane and Jacob Tremblay (you know the kid from “Room” and “Wonder”) are also on board. On paper this looks like an awesome cast but the result is not what I expected. Due to a poor script and a story structure that’s all over the place none of these characters have time to breath and thus it feels like every actor is trying to forcefully summarize everything we need to know about their characters into mere minutes of screen time. Normally I’d break down specific performances here but despite some attempts at great characterizations, especially in regards to mental illness, no one really shines at all in this movie.
It truly feels like everyone is a bit over the top. The characters swear and flex their muscles seemingly just to look tough or add some forced levity to the film. I think one of the biggest sinners in this regard is Sterling K. Brown as Predator expert and agent Will Traeger. I’m not as familiar with Brown outside of his brief role as N’Jobu in “Black Panther” but here he’s the stereotypical egomaniac government agent who thinks his authority makes him better than anyone else. Now this is a character trope that can sometimes work really well, especially in this kind of movie, but in “The Predator” Brown just comes off as that high school bully who swears because swearing is bad and picks on those he sees as below him even though he himself is a bigger loser in the grand scheme of things. It’s just an unlikable character in all the wrong ways. He’s not even a fun villain to embrace. But this performance kind of defines the issue I have with pretty much every actor in this movie. Whether it’s because of poor writing or the actors’ attempts to force some kind of personality into their roles to makes their characters stand out everything is so over the top that it’s actually ridiculously unbelievable and makes the characters at to be more lame than awesome.
I will give credit where its due though to a few actors. Brian Prince portrays the Predator and his acting is pretty spot on. Ironically this has a lot to do with the fact that the Predator doesn’t talk, again showing how the script is probably one of the biggest flaws of this movie. Instead it’s the precise movements used to capture what we have come to accept as the typical Predator mannerisms and style. If you came into this movie to see the Predator you know and love you’ve got it thanks heavily to the actor inside the suit. I also give credit to Jacob Tremblay who has already proven to be a capable and talented young man in front of the camera. Of all the actors in this film Tremblay’s performance is probably the most subtle and layered in terms of how his character deals with his autism and the Predator attack. It’s still flawed, in my opinion mostly due to poor directing and writing, but it’s a standout performance in a cast filled with more experienced actors who fail to come anywhere close to matching the young prodigy.
“The Predator” overall is an absolute mess but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. As I said above, if you’re going to the movies to see the Predator in action you get what you paid for. When the humans and Predator interact and fight it out it is pretty cool even if you can’t really tell where anyone is in relation to each other and it takes the entire movie to get to that point. There’s plenty of gore and brutal kills from the well-designed Predator and Assassin Predator and even a few Predator Dogs in the mix too which adds a nice touch to the creature’s lore. Throughout its history the “Predator” series has pretty much always been about the creature’s penchant for creative and brutal kills and the gruesome visuals associated with those deaths. “The Predator” is no different earning its R rating in visuals alone and killing off characters you fully expect to die, but they’re killed in ways you may not have predicted. It’s a lot of fun and I wish the film had more of this because that’s really what I was looking for in a modern “Predator” movie.
Despite its sloppy execution “The Predator” also doesn’t feel unnecessary. It does, in fact, add to the mythos of these creatures by exploring how the Predators are advancing themselves and even explores ever so slightly why these aliens continue to return to Earth time and time again. In better hands I dare say the idea of a super powered predator coming to Earth would actually have been an intriguing story. Adding in the Predator Dogs was a nice touch to expand on the species and further develop the idea that the Predators are utilizing DNA of other creatures to improve upon themselves. And while I have my reservations I can’t help but credit the filmmakers for adding in characters with mental illnesses. All of Quinn McKenna’s crew suffer from different issues, many the result of action on the battlefield. Thomas Jane’s character has Terrets and while it’s played off as a joke from what I understand about the disorder Jane presents the disorder pretty accurately. There’s even times where their mental disorders get in the way of their survival and times where their disorders prove to give them an advantage. These are great ideas that I think would have been suitable for a much better film. While they’re not presented in a way that I found enjoyable or pleasing the fact that these little details were added in at all gives at least something credible to “The Predator”.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
The problem is I feel like these mental illnesses weren’t respected as much as they were played off for humor. As I said in my “Acting” segment there’s not enough time given to any character to really develop them properly and even some of the mental disorders are phoned in to the point where it’s hard to tell exactly what’s wrong with these people. I don’t know, even for someone like me whose most pressing mental issues are extreme anxiety and depression I found it a bit insulting that these illnesses were used more as levity than to actually create complex characters worth investing in. Add to that a horrible script which seems to lean more on putting it as much vulgar language as possible in the movie than actual human dialogue and you have a film that tries way too hard to be funny and action packed at the same time without truly committing to either approach. Characters swear for absolutely no reason other than to justify the R rating (Olivia Munn calls a Predator a mother f#%*&r just because when she first sees it on the operating table) and their conversations and exchanges are as bland, boring and cliché as action movies ever tend to get. We even get that father/son moment to add some heart to the picture with no developed relationship between the two. So when you add together the horrible writing, what I believe to be a disrespectful presentation of mental illness in its characters and the horrible character development you get a certified cinematic mess.
On top of all that the pacing is really wonky and the story feels extremely bland with the entire thing revolving around retrieving an item the first Predator in the film brought to help humanity. That item ends up being nothing more than a McGuffin and when we finally find out what it is it’s not only underwhelming but feels like it was created to push this franchise in a direction I for one would hate to see it go. And if all that wasn’t enough for me I just didn’t find “The Predator” to be as much fun as it should have been. Yes, there’s plenty of action and some new elements to embrace but overall I felt the film was a contrived and uninspired attempt to continue the “Predator” franchise for a new generation of unthinking, uncaring mindless moviegoers simply satisfied with explosions, blood and a few decent quips. It panders to the lowest common denominator of this franchise’s fan base which is sad when you consider it shouldn’t be THAT hard to create an engaging and enjoyable “Predator” movie.
“The Predator”, to put it bluntly, was a huge disappointment even if it was a disappointment I was fully prepared to experience. It leans heavily on tired clichés, underdeveloped characters, a bland script and what felt to me to be an uninspired story that tries too hard to be one thing or the other without ever successfully mashing genres like the original. It does sport some decent characters, as underdeveloped as they are, who suffer from mental illness which begs to question how such people would survive with a super powered hunter on their tails, but it never really makes good use of these aspects and instead feels more insulting than anything else. Still I can’t say it wasn’t a bit of harmless fun. The gore, weaponry, and creature designs were all pretty neat. The final showdown with the Assassin Predator was predictable but awesome and there are some added aspects that DO in fact build on the Predator lore properly. All things considered it’s a bland action movie and while the “Predator” series has never been the pinnacle of cinematic perfection I can’t help but feel like it’s seen better days. My take: I would even go so far as to call this the least enjoyable standalone movie in the series to date.