- The Predator
- Directed by Shane Black
- Written by Shane Black and Fred Dekker
- Starring Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn and Sterling K. Brown
- Classification 18A; 107 minutes
Absolutely no one in 2018 needs a new Predator film. The original 1987 exercise, about a group of commandos encountering a grumpy alien hunter in the jungles of South America, was a perfect artifact of its time. It had John McTiernan’s expertly directed action, some obligatory VHS-era gore and a whole lot of Arnold Schwarzenegger one-liners.
Yet just as Schwarzenegger's hero Dutch declared, "If it bleeds, we can kill it," Hollywood turned to its surprise hit and subconsciously agreed. If it makes money, we, too, can kill this franchise through evermore dumb iterations. Get to the chopper/editing bay!
And so the resolutely mediocre Predator 2, two objectively horrible Alien vs. Predator films, and the not-bad-but-not-good-either 2010 “sidequel” Predators seemed to imply the extraterrestrial also known as Yautja would go back to its intellectual property confines in the deepest reaches of outer-space development hell.
But then Shane Black came calling. If the franchise had to be revisited, it might as well end up in the hands of the filmmaker who, as the screenwriter for Lethal Weapon, Monster Squad and The Last Boy Scout, helped define the ’80s genre-swamp that also birthed our butt-ugly sport-hunting friend. Hell, Black had a bit part in McTiernan’s first movie and has long been rumoured to have punched up its screenplay while on-set.
Today, Black is best known for being a real-life Hollywood redemption story, who, after flaming out with The Last Action Hero, returned to the industry with fresh takes on the tired tough-guy tropes. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys and Iron Man 3 – Marvel’s funniest movie, and yes I will fight you on that, but also please let’s just be friends – are delightful stews of bloodied bruisers and intricate punch lines. If Black was dying to go back to the jungle, that’s a better fate than handing the property to a newbie music-video director who would drown under studio notes.
The result, though, is less than killer. By simply titling it The Predator, Black’s decades-later sequel – not, it’s explicitly underlined throughout, a reboot or reimagining – implies a back-to-basics approach, where the only thing stopping the big baddie is a group of quip-happy muscle-heads. And that’s mostly what Black delivers, centering the plot around a group of mentally unstable military vets forced to go up against not one but two particularly unfriendly alien visitors.
There are the usual Black-ian elements – wise-cracks, shocking spurts of blood, an extra-precocious kid who finds himself mixed up in trouble (Jacob Tremblay), and a holiday setting (Halloween, instead of Black’s favoured Christmas season).
The cast, led by Boyd Holbrook as the Predator’s main military foe and including standouts such as Olivia Munn as an out-of-her-depth scientist and Sterling K. Brown as a government stooge, is killer. The dialogue – save for some groaners about autism being “the next step of evolution” and one character’s version of Tourette’s – is punchy. And the most important part – the kills – are impressively extra-violent.
Yet there’s a serious problem with the film’s connective tissue. Scenes feel shoved up against each other in a haphazard manner, characters appear and disappear at random, and not that you come to a Predator film for expert plotting, but there are story holes here that could swallow a xenomorph whole. The entire endeavour reeks of reshoots and a lack of narrative confidence – and that’s not even counting the scenes that were cut at the last minute because Black cast a friend who was a registered sex offender.
The movie works well enough when experienced in the frenzied atmosphere of a midnight crowd – as I did, during last week’s Toronto International Film Festival – but when exposed to the harsh light of day, it is less impressive, less intimidating in its ferocity, than it once appeared. Like the title character, you can carefully prick at this film until it bleeds out. And then you’re just left with another dead alien, and there’s nothing new about that.
The Predator opens across Canada on Sept. 14.