“The Predator” Movie Review

Perhaps letting more auteur-centric filmmakers take the reigns of major studio franchises isn’t always the best idea. At least, this is one of those cases. This sci-fi action horror movie premiered as part of the Midnight Madness section in this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. 20th Century Fox then released a week later on September 14th, 2018, where it did well it’s opening weekend against a budget of $88 million. However, the following weekend, its box office intake dropped by nearly 65% and is in doubt of whether or not it will break even by the end of its run. It also doesn’t help that the critical reviews for the film range from mixed to outright negative, which may contribute to poor word-of-mouth. Co-written and directed by Shane Black, the film is something of a full circle for the filmmaker as he had a very minor role in the original Predator movie from 1987. John Davis returned as producer, hoping to revitalize the franchise. The movie moved through multiple committed stars dropping the lead role, as well as the entire third act being reshot over the summer due to poor test screenings. The saddest part is that the press for the movie was somewhat overshadowed when it was revealed that the director’s former friend, a registered sex offender, was completely cut just a couple days before the film was completed. Boyd Holbrook stars as Quinn McKenna, an Army Ranger sniper who stumbles upon technology belonging to an alien species called “Predators.” When the military tries to cover it up, he is thrown onto a bus full of PTSD-ridden soldiers with their own issues. After McKenna’s own son becomes involved in the struggle, the soldiers, alongside a shady government agent and a disgruntled science teacher/evolutionary biologist, go on a rogue mission to prevent the oncoming invasion of the Predators. For the sake of full disclosure, this was my first movie in the Predator series that I have watched. A number of reviews I’ve read have said that this ruins the franchise or that it’s extremely inferior to the original or even its supposedly lackluster sequels. Since I haven’t seen any of the others, I feel that this would be an unfair assessment for me to make. I am a big fan of Shane Black, though, so seeing him tackle a major film like this- one, by the way, whose inaugural predecessor he acted in -was kind of exciting. That being said, The Predator is highly underwhelming. Weirdly enough, the film’s most entertaining moments are when the titular alien isn’t really there. As he proved in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys, Black is able to use sharp, witty dialogue as a tool for hilarious results. He and co-writer Fred Dekker do as best they can to get some machismo one-liners, some not nearly as good as others. As mentioned above, the whole third act of the movie was reshot over the summer. While you can’t really tell that as obvious, it does make you wonder what could have been. Even so, there’s virtually nothing to distinguish this film’s plot from any other action film you’ve seen. I really like Boyd Holbrook as an actor, with roles in both Logan and Narcos proving his worth. While he looks and sounds natural as a wise-cracking soldier, there’s just something here that felt a bit off, but I can’t quite place it. Sterling K. Brown and Olivia Munn do good work against type as a government agent and biologist, respectively. Munn’s is one of her strongest characters to date, while Brown clearly has fun being a morally ambiguous bad guy. While the bus full of soldiers are fun to watch, it’s really only Keegan Michael-Key and Thomas Jane as deeply traumatized men with absolutely no social filter. Jacob Tremblay, meanwhile, is terrific as the main character’s autistic son, who becomes a key player in the fight. I’ve been waiting for yet another film since The Accountant in 2016 to showcase a person on the spectrum whose condition isn’t shown as demeaning, rather somewhat empowering. One person in the movie even mentions how autism is seen by some experts as the next step in human evolution. As far as the technical aspects for The Predator go, it’s still an incredibly mixed bag at best. The cinematography by modern franchise veteran Larry Fong is almost always positioned in shadows and the darkness, which makes some sense when considering how the titular alien is literally invisible in the jungle. The use of a sleek, steely color palette is curious as colors such as green and gray are practically emphasized. The editing by Harry B. Miller III and Billy Weber is really choppy. While not quite “cut-to-shit,” it’s still occasionally hard to tell what’s going on in a scene, especially since much of the action takes place late on Halloween night. The visual effects, meanwhile, are good at best, and noticeably bad at worst. While the Predator itself is often portrayed as a real actor in a big costume- and he is pretty menacing -it also uses some rather unconvincing CGI in bigger set pieces. The actual design for the extraterrestrial and his ship are pretty damn cool, it’s just a bit of a shame that they’re not perfectly realized. In hindsight, maybe Shane Black’s witty sensibilities weren’t really suited for a movie like this. They worked, for the most part, on Iron Man 3, so now it’s a game of who’s to blame. Although it’s not completely devoid of bright spots or redeeming qualities, The Predator is a disappointingly convoluted attempt at modernizing an action classic. Black’s efforts at bringing new tongue-in-cheek elements to a series filled with dripping testosterone are actually kind of admirable, and you can see what he and Fred Dekker were going for. But sadly, the end result isn’t up to par with my expectations. It’s just not worth your time.

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