Hollywood just won’t let things die. And if they seemingly do, it won’t be for long. Granted, I don’t have high hopes for something like the Dark Universe after the train-wreck that was last year’s The Mummy, but believe me, despite Universal’s silence on that front, they will not walk away from this prospect for good. They’ll simply take a few years, retool, wait for the dust to settle, and make plans for what would’ve been the second entry, Bride of Frankenstein. Especially if they can lock down Angelina Jolie and keep Javier Bardem. And when they make the announcement, they’ll stick to their guns by saying they have faith in this project and simply couldn’t back away from all the potential blah blah and renounce The Mummy as being non-canon. They essentially already did it with 2014’s Dracula Untold, the initial kickstarter to the whole shebang until that too was negatively received. The point is, studios will milk their franchises until they’re no longer lucrative, go on hiatus long enough for people to forget, and then come back when nostalgia for the property has swelled enough to support a reboot. And that’s essentially what’s happening again for the Predator franchise, one that never entirely managed to become a cohesive series of films after Predator 2 proved to be both a critical and commercial disappointment in 1990. While the mean, extraterrestrial hunter rose to prominence again in the mid 2000’s with the crossover Alien vs. Predator films, it wasn’t until 2010 that he got another solo outing in the Robert Rodriguez-produced Predators. While a significant step up and the creature’s best outing since his debut in 1987’s Predator, it still wasn’t the kind of spine-ripping return-to-form 20th Century Fox was hoping for. Cut to eight years later and we’ve got Shane Black – already familiar with the franchise after starring in the original film – coming in to write and direct The Predator, whose title has solidified the most confusing quadrilogy of nomenclature in Hollywood history. However, Black’s involvement was certainly enough to whet fans’ appetite for another blood-soaked adventure, his recent hot streak in Iron Man 3 and The Nice Guys lending him plenty of credibility. And while it certainly resembles his prior work and had the potential to reinvigorate the franchise, it does not. At all. In fact, it’s so bafflingly messy, it makes one wonder what even went wrong, you know, aside from what reaaaaallly went wrong. Everything felt inspired in pre-production, from the director, to the cast, to the tone. And yet what we got was a garbled mishmash of inconsistent action and forced comedy. If the rest of the movie was like the first twenty minutes, it probably would’ve been fine. But it wasn’t. And it isn’t.
In The Predator, Army Ranger sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) encounters a Predator after its ship crash-lands in the middle of one of his operations in Mexico. While his team is killed, McKenna is able to incapacitate it and abscond with some of its weaponry, mailing it off before he and the Predator are captured by U.S. Government Agent Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and brought back stateside. McKenna being deemed a liability for having seen too much, he is placed on a transfer bus with other military detainees Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes), Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), Baxley (Thomas Jane), Lynch (Alfie Allen), and Nettles (Augusto Aguilera), self-dubbed the “Loonies.” However, before they get very far, the Predator is able to escape from the compound, slaughtering dozens of people. Believing it to be after its gear McKenna had shipped off to his home, McKenna convinces the Loonies – with the help of biologist Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) – to break out and intercept its trajectory, before his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) and wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski) are caught in the crossfire. Meanwhile, a second, more evolved Predator arrives in pursuit of the first, complicating the proceedings exponentially.
Man, that’s a lot of characters. And when I say characters, I mean characters, all of which the movie wants you to give a hootenanny about until basically the very end. So, naturally, this movie is dialogue-heavy, and when I say dialogue, I mean jokes. Lots and lots of jokes. Not that you would expect anything different from the likes of Key and company, but boy is it like stepping into a batting cage running at high speed. They just keep coming and coming. And that’s not to say this movie’s not funny in spurts; rugged comedy is merely Shane Black’s forte. But they undermine much of the tone inherent and keep you from really taking it seriously. And I already know what you’re thinking: this is simply a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, so just take it in stride. To which I retort, not everything can get a pass by intentionally dumbing itself down or nudging the audience as if to say, “Isn’t this kinda stupid but fun?” Not everything needs to be Thor: Ragnarok. I didn’t need Marvel humor in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and I don’t need it here. Stop learning the wrong lessons, Hollywood. The Predator franchise was never good because it was witty. Sure, Arnold got one of his iconic quips in the beginning of the first film, but what made that one perfect was the back half of it, with his team dead and him shirtless, muddy, howling into the jungle as he sets trap after trap. That was what Predator was and always needed to be. A bunch of sweaty dudes in the jungle getting picked off one by one by a superior being before the alpha male human weaponizes his beefy masculinity and survival skills in order turn the hunter into the hunted. That’s it. So if you were to ask me which reboot pays proper reverence to its source material with a greater understanding of what made it good, it’s 2010’s Predators. Shane Black may have helped will the Predator into existence, but aside from a cornucopia of trivia and references to hurl at the audience, he doesn’t display the kind of awareness it would’ve taken to pull this one off.
But let’s get into the fun elements of this movie, shall we? Granted, by the time it was over, I wouldn’t label my experience as “fun,” but it’s evident that the movie itself is having fun deconstructing itself to the point of ostensible cannibalism. For those who have seen all its predecessors and for better or worse simply enjoy seeing this masterfully designed creature on the big screen, this might just be worth it for you. It’s stuffed full with callbacks and easter eggs to even some of the more forgettable moments in the franchise, to the point where one can infer those making it at least wanted to do justice to the material. I could probably mention some of them without spoiling anything plot-wise, but if you are indeed going to have any fun here, this kind of moviegoer scavenger hunt is going to be your most likely source of it – unfortunately enough. While some nods are going to be more obvious than others, it does require at least a cursory knowledge from the viewer to complete the conversation. Which is a good thing. If there’s one thing about The Nun that rubbed me the wrong way, it was its incessant funneling down your throat of connections and mythos to the larger universe as a whole that would’ve been better served as side dish. Here, The Predator at least trusts the viewer to contribute, and if not, oh well.
At the end of the day, though, The Predator is simply a very, very bad movie. And a lot of that badness comes in the third act, when most films would be wont to put its affairs in order by. Apparently, all this was reshot earlier this year due the response in test screenings, and though I don’t know what the original vision looked like, it had to have been a lot better than what we got. Because frankly, The Predator quickly devolves into an incoherent mess just about as soon as it starts to climax. In about every perceivable way. Whole plot developments that originally had the kernel of an interesting idea are unexplainably dropped without reason, leaving the viewer to wonder what might have been for the future of the franchise had the film stayed the course. Not only that, but even action-wise the ending is a dud. I couldn’t even tell what was happening and before I realized it a major, major character was offed as if Thanos had simply snapped them out of existence. With no buildup or payoff. Nothing. In fact, it’s underwhelming. And the hero vs. villain finale is so tacked-on and cheesy it completely undoes any good sequences it had already gotten away with earlier. And speaking of tacked-on, holy Christ, the final scene. It is so forced and stupid and desperate for sequels it rivals the final pieces of dialogue from the sequel-less and forever sequel-less Independence Day: Resurgence. If you remember that dumpster fire of a film, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
In short, don’t see this movie unless you’ve been so hungry for a new Predator that the fact that it sucks couldn’t even spoil it for you. I suppose as a piece of filmmaking and how it fits into the Hollywood machine, you could argue it’s worthy of at least a curiosity watch, but that’s about it. It’s a shame, in fact, how bad it is, because it really could have been great. And it could have spawned a decent sequel or two. But now it won’t. And the property will revert to its old ways of letting audiences forget again before throwing the dreadlocked demon back into the fray again just to see if he sticks. And I don’t see the studio taking another chance on it unless it has one of two things: Arnold or Xenomorphs. And I’m leaning toward the latter as being the likelier candidate. That’s right, as much as we love to rip on the Alien vs. Predator movies, they each made more money than any solo Predator movie ever has, and the eleven years that has passed since the last one is more than enough for the nostalgia factor to kick into effect.
Until then, can we stop making the Predator and his predator dogs CGI? It’s never going to look as good as the make-up effects. Barf.
Final Score: 2/10