The Predator is an ambitious exercise in frustration. The first ten or so minutes of Shane Black’s sequel suggests an exciting return to form for the waning sci-fi action series as one Predator spacecraft shoots down another on its way to a little rock called Earth. You’d be excused for letting slip an enthusiastic “Hell yeah!”
Back on Earth, we’re introduced to a wise-cracking ex-military sniper-turned-mercenary by the name of Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), who’s aiming down the scope at his next target, a cartel drug lord, when an alien spaceship comes streaking out of the sky and crash lands in the Mexican jungle mere yards from his camouflaged nook.
What follows is a brutal, blood-pumping showdown that sees McKenna’s squad of crack commandos quickly dispatched by a growling pair of glowing eyes. It’s a brief but exhilarating throwback to the gory action of the original Predator film that will no doubt put a smile on the faces of moviegoers looking to relive a simpler, beefier and sweatier time in cinema’s history.
After his “run-in with a space alien”, McKenna briefly absconds with and mails out the creature’s helmet and wrist gauntlet to a PO box back home so he’ll have evidence to back up his story once he’s taken into custody. Mckenna is interrogated by men in black suits then dumped on a bus bound for a VA psych ward. It’s here he meets and recruits a small band of neurotic oddballs– who refer to themselves as “The Loonies”– to help fend the planet from the latest Predator invasion.
It sounds like a simple set-up in the vein of John McTiernan’s 87 original, but in actuality it’s all part of an increasingly-convoluted narrative that ultimately goes nowhere. You see, it turns out McKenna hasn’t exactly been keeping up with the payments on said post office box, so the package gets delivered to the residence of his estranged wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski) and their young son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), an autistic genius.
Rory takes it upon himself to open his dad’s box and in doing so accidentally activates a device inside the gauntlet that gives away the location of the stolen contraband. Thus begins the mad dash between McKenna and the Loonies; the predator whose armor McKenna took; the larger “upgrade predator” that initially grounded that predator; and the countless armed meatheads under the direction of Sterling K. Brown’s ruthless, smart-mouthed, gum-smacking Traeger. Who or what will get to Rory and the armor first?
The longer The Predator clicks on, the more obvious it becomes that large chunks of the narrative were cut from the final edit. The result is often a confusing and incoherent Frankenstein’s monster-like mash-up of tonally inconsistent sequences. You will undoubtedly find yourself asking questions similar, but not limited to:
- “How did these characters get from point A to point B?”
- “Where did this important device materialize from?”
- “How does this character know this crucial information? “
- “Where did (insert character name) go and where’ve they been this whole time?”
You know a story isn’t being told well when the audience has to piece together the basic plot using their own imagination.
What The Predator lacks in narrative structure, it almost (but not quite) makes up for with personality. Shane Black has a knack for writing charismatic wise-asses and this film is full of them. The Loonies in particular, who are total outcasts to the world but often vibrate on a similarly dysfunctional wavelength to each other, have enough fun on screen for it to be infectious. Keegan-Michael Key bares the brunt of the spotlight here with an arsenal of crude “yo momma” jokes that will tickle the child in you.
Olivia Munn, who’s traditionally not great on screen, actually hands in a solid performance as Dr. Casey Bracket, a biologist brought in to assess the anomalous genetic breakdown of the Predator from the crash site. She doesn’t serve much of a storytelling purpose and as soon as the captured Predator regains consciousness and breaks loose, her character picks up an automatic rifle and magically transforms into an alien-hunting badass at the drop of a hat.
Boyd Holbrook brings a bland sort of charm to a gruff, military hero who has essentially been copied and pasted from any number of 80s/90s action movies. He’d feel right at home in the first film.
When The Predator is in throwback action movie mode, which is most of the time, it is actually pretty fun. Black delivers on the violent, sci-fi smatterings you’d expect out of a Predator movie. Once the third act rolls around, though, everything becomes visually so dark that it’s difficult to see what exactly is going on. In a movie supposedly all about the action, that’s frustrating.
This is also when the visual effects are at their worst. Screensaver-like spectacles and simple rendering issues grossly effect such basic aspects as some of the creatures’ movements.
By the end, The Predator almost completely lost me. It starts strong and delivers the goods periodically throughout; however, loses its focus the longer it wears on to the point where even the visual effects look a mess.
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