Written by Joe Ahart // Edited by Andrew Busch //
***MILD SPOILERS AHEAD***
When people recall the 80’s, it is hard not to think about the countless popular franchises that spawned out of the era. Terminator, Nightmare on Elm Street, Back to the Future, and so many other movies from this era still hold cultural value to this day. Some are even still being revisited to this day with modern adaptations, remakes or reboots. One cultural icon that is no exception to this phenomenon is the Predator, revealing itself for the first time in John McTiernan’s original Predator (1987).
As someone who grew up with this franchise and has loved almost every film it has had to offer, I was pretty excited to hear that a new installment was being released this year. The Predator, which released in theaters on September 14th of 2018, was directed by Shane Black, who played the part of Rick Hawkins in the original Predator movie and even helped write the first film and others like Lethal Weapon (1987) and Monster Squad (1987). Seems promising, right? The trailers left me a little skeptical, but hey, I shouldn’t take the movie too seriously. The Predator franchise has always had its fair share of corny one-liners and campy moments. So I did the right thing and set my expectations low enough to sit back, relax, and just be happy to see one of my favorite movie monsters on the big screen again.
Somehow The Predator sinks even lower than I could have imagined.
This movie took what could have been an interesting idea and turned it into an almost hilarious disaster. Let’s start off with the objectively terrible aspects that anyone who has taken a single film class could recognize. The editing is downright atrocious; it’s clear from the choppiness alone that the film had gone through development hell, probably experiencing multiple re-shoots, rewrites, and creative decisions which all came at the cost having a cohesive narrative.
The first half of the film starts off somewhat decipherable; a marine sniper named McKenna is in the middle of a mission when he encounters the Predator after it crash lands on Earth. McKenna’s squad is taken out, but he is able to escape from the wounded creature while managing to take some of its gear for evidence. The Predator is then captured and sent to a lab for study, while McKenna makes his way to a rural Mexican village and, before being captured by the government, FedEx’s the top secret alien gear back to his home, where his hyper-intelligent son discovers it and begins to decipher its mysteries. Seriously, he just mails it home from some random village in Mexico. After brief questioning, McKenna is then assigned to ‘Group 2’ (a.k.a the ‘Loony Bin’), a group of soldiers suffering from PTSD and other traumatic backgrounds, and is sent…somewhere. It’s never really revealed where they were being taken, but hey, I guess it doesn’t matter because the Predator escapes and they manage to break loose! From this point on, the plot is constructed from a compilation of loosely related scenes. Moments that seem to be building up to something are cut before they get interesting, big plot points happen so quickly they can’t be registered, and people seem to transport from one area to another without any explanation as to how, why or when they even got there.
I had also expected much more from Shane Black in terms of writing. The plot, dialogue and characters in this film felt like a Predator parody rather than a serious installment. With majority of the dialogue being either exposition or crappy jokes, there was no room left to give the characters any depth or sensible motivations. Were they original? Maybe, but any personality and charm came entirely from having funny quirks, not by being relatable or complex. These are supposed to be soldiers with PTSD, but instead of delving into this subject seriously we get ‘funny’ jokes about Tourette’s syndrome and one brief scene of Keegan Michael Key having a panic attack. The main character himself reminded me of someone out of a Transformers movie. Completely flat, terrible dialogue, and no real developmental change other than going from ‘total bad-ass’ to ‘even more of a total bad-ass’ by the end.
At the same time, many characters who were introduced never actually have a proper send off, instead just disappearing after their usefulness to the plot is spent. What is such a shame is that there were some decent actors in this movie who never had a chance to shine due to poor character development and messy dialogue. Olivia Munn plays the supporting role of Dr. Bracket, who goes from a driven Johns Hopkins professor determined to understand the Predators’ motivations to yet another unrealistic bad-ass who jumps off of buildings and handles assault rifles without any hesitation or sense of unfamiliarity. McKenna’s son Rory, played by Jacob Tremblay from the movie ‘Room’ is on the spectrum and while Tremblay’s performance is convincing in depicting someone with autism, his character became a complete joke, but I’ll get to that atrocious plot point later on.
I think in order to understand why this movie was so terrible, we have to look at what made the first Predator film so great. For the record, this is not a nostalgia rant about how great the 80’s were, and that change is always a bad thing. I actually liked the direction that Shane Black was taking Predator lore. After three other movies keeping the creature shrouded in mystery, Black was brave enough to explore deeper motives of the extraterrestrial hunter. While some may disagree with the direction he chose, I was happy to finally get more background, and even some dialogue, from the Predators themselves. But this movie completely failed to capture what Predator is about, how it is portrayed, and the suspense that naturally comes with an invisible killer hunting you and your buddies down one by one. John McTiernan blended the line between horror and action with the original movie, giving a few fast paced moments for that 80’s adrenaline rush, but also purposefully creating many drawn out moments and lingering shots in order to create that sense of dread of being hunted. Predator (1987) is the only action movie I can think of where the final act has little to no dialogue in it. It simply doesn’t need it; the motives are clear, the rules are set, and the stakes are high.
Again, being the fourth (technically sixth) installment in the franchise, it’s understandable why that mysterious aura around the Predator doesn’t work anymore. But this movie ignored any chance at creating a suspenseful atmosphere and traded it for B-movie quality action sequences and off-putting comedic moments. In terms of sci-fi movies, I would compare it to the likes of Men in Black more than I would a Predator movie. On paper, Black had an interesting idea that could have gone deeper into the ‘Predator universe’ while understanding, at its core, what the films are trying to accomplish. It seemed that at a certain point he simply didn’t believe in himself or the idea he had, and instead turned the movie into a parody of itself.
Looking at the previous installment, Predators (2010), I think there was a lot Black could have learned from the way Robert Rodriguez approached the franchise. Predators was by no means a ground-breaking movie, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the hell out of it. It took itself just seriously enough to have compelling characters and cool new additions to the ‘Predator universe’, all while still keeping plenty open ended and capturing that familiar, suspenseful tone and structure from the original movie. That being said, these familiar things were also Predators’ weakness, and I was happy to see Shane Black deviate from the typical status quo and attempt to create a fresh new take. It was time to move on from the slasher-in-the-jungle film and turn it into something bigger and better. Instead he sought to create something so wildly different and subverting that it became almost meta in some aspects, as if he were making fun of action movies and the franchise itself. We know it’s ridiculous, Shane. We didn’t need you to remind us every minute of how silly the concept of an alien hunter is. There was simply nothing there to suspend the viewers disbelief from it.
The last thing that confused me about this movie was how Black portrayed things like autism, PTSD, and other mental conditions. This wasn’t the first film in which he tackled this subject; Iron Man 3 delves into Tony Stark’s PTSD caused by the events of the first Avengers movie. This is a recurring subject in his films, so clearly the subject matter must mean something to him. I am not trying to presume anything, of course, but all I’m saying is if you are going to continue to portray things like autism and anxiety in your films, shouldn’t you do a little research first? Putting these elements into a Predator film, you’d think he would take a darker approach to these concepts and use them to create an unusual and interesting dynamic for an action film. Instead, unsurprisingly, they all fall into an almost comedic tone and become more like joke sources rather than interesting character traits. Honestly, I thought having soldiers with PTSD and a child on the spectrum face off against the deadliest hunter in the galaxy sounded like an awesome idea, and could have resulted in some. Instead the soldiers are like characters out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the child feels like Young Sheldon. Without spoiling too much, they literally describe autism as the ‘next step in human evolution’ and many of the child’s abilities make it seem more like a superpower than a developmental condition. I think Black’s heart was in the right direction in giving more exposure to mental conditions like these, but his comedic take on them in this movie turned these portrayals into borderline offensive representations.
As you can probably tell by now, I am deeply disappointed with this movie and sad that it did not live up to its potential to be something truly unique. Even though it had many interesting ideas and could have taken a bold step in the franchise, The Predator fails on pretty much all fronts to deliver a good or even entertaining film. If you are going to see it, my suggestion is to not only lower your expectations tremendously, but to try and convince yourself that you’re watching a comedy. It might help make sense of the ridiculous plot, terrible writing, and over-the-top concepts.
I give it 3/10 stars and a hard pass.