Back in 1987, director John McTiernan’s Predator proved to be a hit but with some flippant reviews. It is only with the passing years that it has been appreciated for what it truly is, a well crafted, suspenseful, gruesome genre mashing, action-loaded classic, that boasts so much testosterone that that you can grow a beard by just watching it!! So, when it was announced that writer/director Shane Black (The Nice Guys, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) was returning to the Predator franchise – after playing Hawkins in the original – but this time behind the camera, we all had much reason to celebrate.
From the Danny Glover starring (and underrated) Predator 2 to the Robert Rodriguez produced 2010 sequel/reboot Predators, the Predator films have not been half as bad as the reviews have claimed. Sadly, Black’s latest entry into the series (itself a sequel-cum-reboot) is undoubtedly the worst offering in the franchise’s history.
Despite starting reasonably well, with an excellent laboratory set piece being the early highlight, The Predator crumbles more and more, the longer it goes on before coming entirely undone come the climax. Throughout the duration Black and Fred Dekker’s screenplay dabbles in a number of genres but it can never decide what it wants to be? Retro ‘80s actioner? Comedy? Sci-Fi blockbuster? Gory Horror? Amblin-esque alien tale? It attempts to mash up its influences but the combination is thrown together rather than neatly grouped and the narrative ends up awkwardly jumping from one thing to the next and tonally the script is just a real mess. The finale in particular is ridiculous and feels very out of place in a film that is part of this franchise, in fact this often – despite some potential moments, references (worst of which is a wasted Jake Busey) and ideas (PredDogs, the odd action sequence) – feels more like a parody of the very films that inspired it.
The direction feels indecisive and worse than that occasionally indifferent, and the plot matches with some sequences contradicting each other, for instance its themes around disability (done far better in this year’s A Quiet Place) baffle, as one moment the film champions autistic people, only to openly mock disability the next. It is a strange experience watching the film and seeing so many passing ideas unutilised. Not to mention the frustratingly off point comedy and hecticly shot (especially in the final third) scenes.
Plus, the effects work feels unrefined, with some cartoonishly ropey CGI rearing its head at points, which is unusual as the film did not need such bombast, in fact its greatest visual moments are in some of the sterling make-up work earlier on, which successfully harks back to Stan Winston’s iconic work in the original and the sequels’ carrying on of that legacy (hell, even the Alien vs. Predator films had sublime make-up/CGI). Still, this hard work is at least still visible in some way and Henry Jackman’s score yields better praise, as it does a good job capturing the feel of Alan Silvestri’s motifs of the franchise.
The characters, in spite of strong work by Jacob Tremblay and Keegan-Michael Kay, are mostly like the poorer, less exciting or charismatically diluted cousins to The Expendables and their individual traits and motivations come to mean very little as the movie rushes forward and throws them away uncaringly. Boyd Holbrook’s lead is very drab and Olivia Munn has very little to work with either in a film that lacks the spark that Black’s work usually possesses in abundance.
Overall, there are some things to like but The Predator is an enormous let down. It has had a lot of news nabbing controversy to overcome and apparently (I did not know this until after viewing) some production issues but the worst thing about all of it is just how unloved it feels.