Directed By: Shane Black
Release Date: September 14, 2018
Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Thomas Jane, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Trevante Rhodes
31 years after it kicked off in the summer of 1987, the Predator franchise is back with The Predator, the sixth big screen outing for the iconic alien game hunter. It's been eight years since we last touched based with this series in 2010's Predators, and this time around director Shane Black – who had a supporting role way back in the original film – has taken the reins in an attempt to revitalize the series for modern audiences.
The Predator sees one of the alien creatures crash landing on Earth after its ship is damaged by a pursuing one, landing smack dab in the middle of a military operation being led by Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), whose men are killed by the alien. McKenna escapes and is able to ship off some of the Predator's equipment back home – where his young son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay), discovers it – before he is caught by the government and branded as crazy in an attempt to cover up the Predator's existence.
As for the Predator, it is captured by Agent Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and his men as part of a secret program that has been studying the species since at least the events of the original film, and biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is brought in to help study the living specimen. Of course, it doesn't take long for things to go haywire, as the Predator escapes and sets out to reclaim its stolen equipment from Rory, forcing McKenna and a slew of military misfits (Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, Trevante Rhodes, Alfie Allen, and Augusto Aguilera) into action to stop the Predator and save the young boy.
Of course, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way, including some new developments injected into the overall mythology of the franchise, but I'm going to boil the overall texture of The Predator into one simple comparison: The Predator is to Predator what Jurassic World was to Jurassic Park.
Like the Jurassic Park franchise, which had seemingly burnt out back in 2001 with the disappointing Jurassic Park III, the Predator franchise has seen better days, and the outright failure of Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem in 2007 followed by the general disinterest in Predators back in 2010 meant that the series was put on ice. And in comes The Predator, much like Jurassic World, to press the reset button, stripping away much of the series' baggage to date – only the original film and Predator 2, a film I personally love, get any direct lip service here – in order to appeal to a much broader audience and capitalize on the nostalgia of the original film.
On paper, it's a smart move: After three decades, it's just not feasible to try and make the Predator scary again, as the hunter is too ingrained in pop culture that the mystique surrounding it is long gone, and for the series to try and play into that yet again would only serve to make the film redundant (just look at last year's Alien: Covenant for a solid example of that notion). And so it is that Black does away with trying to recapture the lightning in the bottle of 1987, something he makes clear right off the bat; whereas the original film held its big reveal of the Predator until the final act, The Predator opens immediately with the creature in full glory.
Gone is the horror and suspense that defined the first film – and something every subsequent film tried to emulate to less successful results – and in its place, the action is upped, the sci-fi elements get more focus, and all of it is wrapped up with a big, boisterous comedic bow. In fact, the comedy playground in which The Predator frolics is much bigger than ever before, and if any one thing defines what this film does for the franchise, it's that it actively shifts it away from sci-fi horror and into the realm of outright action comedy.
Oddly enough, The Predator is undoubtedly the most violent film in the franchise to date. Limbs get severed. Skulls get cracked. Internal organs see fresh air. Buckets of blood coat the walls. The hunter is merciless, easily more so than in any of the other films, but whereas the violence of the original film only served to underscore just how horrifying the situation was, it's here played almost entirely for laughs, and each arm that gets blown off or head that gets bashed in was greeted by cheers and applause in the audience I saw the film with, which only goes to show how much this series has had to acclimate to the fact that modern crowds are simply desensitized to this kind of stuff now.
Where the first two films found personality in their premises and their settings, whether it be the clever subversion of action tropes that defined the first film or the grimy, sweaty vision of 1997 Los Angeles of the sequel, The Predator attempts to carve out its own personality by giving everyone and everything personality, something that the cast – the standouts of which are Key, Jane, Munn, and Brown, in particular – is clearly game for.
Pretty much every character gets the chance to partake in delivering one-liners or engaging in a slapstick routine, even the Predator itself, who uses a severed hand to deliver a thumbs-up at one point, which can tend to be exhausting, as the film trades in characterization for laughs to a fault, resulting in too many one-note personalities. Brown, for instance, is entertaining to watch, sure, but his character swings so quickly into outright villainy that it borders on the cartoonish in its deficiency of logic, something that does a disservice to an actor who could've easily turned in a more well-rounded performance with something to actually chew on. It's just one example that highlights the fact that the film is more focused on making people laugh than anything else, something that may easily turn off fans of the original films, which – even if their characterizations may not have been too complex, either – at least took themselves far more seriously in a way that felt grounded.
And like Jurassic World's attempt at meta commentary on the idea that "dinosaurs aren't enough to entertain anymore," The Predator posits a similar notion by introducing a new super-Predator, along with – no joke – Predator dogs, bringing the concept of genetic engineering into the franchise to make bigger, badder hunters. And with that, too, comes the stripping away of the core conceit that the Predators are just sport hunters, with The Predator taking strides to illuminate as much about the iconography we've been used to for decades as it can, from explaining the purpose of the aliens' dreads to what they really use their spinal cord trophies for and so on, in the process demystifying the species for the purpose of steering the franchise as a whole towards a new future, one that embraces serialized storytelling over the episodic nature the franchise has been to date, something the closing moments of the film make evident.
Personally, I appreciated the little things, whether it be composer Henry Jackman's liberal use of Alan Silvestri's fantastic theme or the casting of Jake Busey as Sean Keyes, son of Gary Busey's Peter Keyes from Predator 2, and there's enough that the film does right to make it an enjoyably entertaining ride from start to finish. It's paced pretty well, for instance, even if the final act devolves into a generic, predictable showdown, and I was never outright bored, but – and to compare it one last time to Jurassic World – it feels as though it's coasting on the goodwill of what came before, efficient in a way that'll undoubtedly entertain audiences but lacking a real, unique spark that makes it feel essential.
Because The Predator is so focused on where this story is ultimately going, it shortchanges itself, feeling less like a Predator movie and more something else entirely, but what that is, exactly, remains to be seen, and how time will treat this film rests entirely on whether or not this new era it's ushered the franchise into succeeds or fails. Should a future sequel or sequels blow our collective minds, The Predator will undoubtedly be looked at fondly for paving the way for its existence; should said sequel(s) be disastrous, The Predator will have to bear that cross forever.
But for now, thanks to a cast that's clearly having a blast, some slick action, and at least a clear desire to have fun with the franchise on Black's part, The Predator stands as a serviceable experience, leagues better than the Alien vs. Predator films and Predators while still falling far short of the bar set by the first two entries. For better or worse, The Predator has forced this series to evolve and adapt in a way that's going to be incredibly divisive, particularly for fans who really love the original, but if you've casually enjoyed most of the franchise to date or are just looking for something to kick back and have some mindless fun with, The Predator awaits.
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