I am a big fan of Shane Black, the director and co-writer of The Predator, but his cinematic style is so pronounced now that his movies are almost becoming their own genre, complete with checklist:
- Quirky, dangerous characters? Check
- Maritally estranged main character? Check
- Ruthless but intelligent and funny villain? Check
- Smarter-than-average kid who becomes essential to the plot? Check
- Whip-smart dialogue peppered with creative profanity? Check
- Takes place during a festive holiday? Check (except it's Hallowe'en instead of Christmas - who even are you , Shane?!)
So the short of it is this:you aren't going to see anything really new in The Predator, despite Black & (Fred) Dekker's attempts to broaden the scope of the franchise a bit with the idea that the namesake species has been improving itself with DNA from its prey. In the end, though, it is still a hapless group of humans with access to serious ordnance trying to fight something way out of their league.
An you know what? That's okay.
The film is a bit jumbled in places, which is surprising considering that Black's Iron Man 3 handled its story and action so deftly, but in the end, this is probably the strongest of the Predator sequels to date, although that might be damning with faint praise. And unlike the original, there is no big action star to hang this movie on, making its impressive genre ensemble cast a critical element.
For your leading man you have the heavy from Logan (Boyd Holbrook) as Quinn McKenna, Army Ranger sniper and covert soldier, who has the misfortune of encountering the title character while on a mission in Mexico. Stateside, he is quickly sequestered and questioned, then thrown in with Group 2 (as in group therapy), which includes 2004 Punisher (Thomas Jane), the guy from Moonlight (Trevante Rhodes), half of Key and Peele (Keegan Michael Key), and Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen). Group 2 is a group of emotionally disturbed veterans Holbrook is thrown in with to discredit his alien story, but before you can say "ragtag band of misfits", they find themselves knee deep in battle with an extraterrestrial hunter as well as their own government as it tries to keep things quiet.
Then you have Psylocke from the X-Men (Olivia Munn) and Killmonger's dad from Black Panther (Sterling K. Brown) as an evolutionary biologist who wants to study the alien and the government acquisitions agent who wants whatever he can get out of it to round things out.
Is Brown's callous agent going to end up face-to-face with Holbrook's autistic son, whose savant-like abilities help him to understand the alien tech better than others? Of course he will! In a weird kind of sentimentality, Black loves to put smart kids in bad situations alongside evil people. He may do this in order to justify terrible things happening to them later on, but as a parent I still find the scenes disturbing and engaging.
I don't want to spoil the story, but there is an even bigger Predator in the mix eventually, as well as perhaps the ugliest alien hunting dogs seen to date. There are a number of great callbacks to the previous films in the dialogue and some of the gags (McKenna says "Get to the choppers!" before sprinting towards a cluster of motorcycles, which was very well received in my theater), and even an appearance by Jake Busey, whose father Gary was in Predator 2.
Black also went hard R on this film, letting him drop f-bombs with calculated rapidity, and a level of gore that makes the rampages feel far more consequential, especially in a sterile, white, lab environment.
Most importantly though, Black & Dekker keep the story moving along with almost no prompting or prodding from stupid people. No one leaves a critical door unlocked, no one skips off on guard duty to get high, and people who have an opportunity to leave the fight make a darn strong case that, hey, maybe that is something they oughta do. And at 1:47, they don't waste any time heading down any subplot rabbit holes they don't need.
I hope that the controversy over Black's knowingly hiring a a registered sex offender isn't the reason for The Predator's relatively soft $24M opening weekend, but it probably played a role. For my part, I appreciated his sincerity and apology once Olivia Munn and others showed him the details of the case (although I also hope he personally apologizes to her for putting her in that position) revealing how he had been misled, and I am grateful that the studio decided to excise that scene from the movie.
If you liked the original movie, and would like more of the same, but different, and with more laughs, go check out The Predator. It's cinematic comfort food that is messy as all get out, but tasty and filling as well. It fits into a funny, gory, sci-fi niche that feels a little out of step with the times these days, bu the five of us who saw it yesterday had a great time at it. Go see it as a favour to me, as I am eagerly anticipating Black's venture into pulp territory with Dwayne Johnson in Doc Savage!