The original Predator is pure entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less. Which is what makes its reboot and most likely inevitable sequels more painful. It tries to be so much more and ends up being even less. Director Shane Black had a small role in the original film, so some can say he has been preparing for thirty years to introduce us to his take on the dreadlocks wearing monster. If this is the case than time hasn’t been kind to Black. One can see the film he was trying to make, but it is buried by an overstocked plot, your mamma jokes and bloody violence that could only entertain a thirteen-year-old boy. The Predator wants to remind you how awesome the original was while still ending some modern thematic elements, but instead studio executives find their way into derailing this creature only to lead with an ending that will say “see you next year” and at which point a smart audience will reply, “no we’re good.”
This isn’t to say everything about it is unbearable. The moments where certain characters get to stand out feels like a breath of fresh and needed air. But this is quickly snatched away by another shot of a man’s head exploding in a way that is meant to be comical, but instead only felt tiresome. Somewhere on Shane Black’s production notes is a well executed film that touches on the treatment of wounded veterans both physically and especially mentally. You can see it in his better written (or maybe just better performed) characters, or maybe there is even a statement to be made about those who fall on the spectrum and its relevancy. It is tough to say and while one may want to find out that chance is never given. Instead the only option is to sit back and find solace in lazy bloodshed and pubescent humor.
The film opens up just like any other of its kind. An alien like creature crashes on Earth, wreaks havoc and leaves one survivor to tell the story. Our survivor is given to us in the form of Army Sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) who has escaped the Predator after it has killed off some unlucky Mexican Cartel (a not so subtle reference to Holbrook’s time on Narcos perhaps). After his escape McKenna decides the perfect thing to do is to mail some Predator equipment he smuggled away to his home back in North America. Wouldn’t you know this doesn’t go well because the package finds its way into the hands of McKenna’s autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay). Rory is great with technology and while he is not being bullied or called “ass-burgers” (cue laughter from half of the audience) he finds an extreme liking to the Predator’s technology and before you know contacts the creature. Rory’s autism feels very uncomfortable in the film, because you know Black wants to say something bigger by including it, but instead waits until the worst possible moment.
Before McKenna can come home to his son he is first interrogated by a ruthless government official Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown who milks and grins through every line he is given making it all too easy to go along with him for the ride). Traeger sees McKenna as something the government can use as a scapegoat and throws McKenna into a prison bus along with several other disturbed military vets. Each vet has his own mental struggle starting with the suicidal Nebraska Williams who is fantastically portrayed by ‘Moonlight’ star Trevante Rhodes. When Rhodes speaks you listen and for a short moment you’re watching a real film. Not so much with the other characters, Keegan-Michael Key plays Coyle a lunatic who shouts far too many (and unfunny) “your mother” jokes in compensation for his PTSD. Then there’s Thomas Jane whose character has severe Tourette’s giving Black the perfect opportunity to have him shout constant profanities causing the audience to lose it with laughter even in 2018. There’s two more members portrayed by Augusto Aguilera and Game of Thrones Alfie Allen, but neither leave a mark past their introduction.
If all this testosterone seems a bit overwhelming fear not and welcome Olivia Munn’s biologist and alien expert Casey Bracket. Bracket has dreamed since she was a little girl of meeting an alien a moment that would be endearing if it wasn’t followed by her having to strip naked in order to escape an encounter with the Predator. But her character avoids being a sex object allowing Munn to deliver even some of the films most cringeworthy lines with honesty and a tough exterior that only gets tougher when bullets and limbs start flying. Munn plays action hero better than her male costars and while she does not steal the show one would much rather see her in her own film franchise and not this chaotic mess. And a mess it truly is, as the film starts to unravel plot points are revealed that offer up embarrassing and borderline offensive results.
Thanks to Bracket’s brains we soon learn that these Predator creatures are injecting themselves with the strongest forms of DNA and we soon learn who its next target is. The victim and the reason behind it are beyond painful. To spoil it would be cruel but to not warn you ahead of time would be criminal. All that will be said is don’t ever underestimate a filmmaker when it comes to using autism as a plot device.
The rest you already know. Limbs fly off, bullets are shot, another unfunny sex joke is told. There is so much thrown around in this film you never know if it is trying to be a franchise starter or a thought-provoking popcorn flick. What is apparent is this reboot is so lost in time and has no clue who its audience is. The franchise ending gives the smallest of hopes that all will be sorted out in time for the sequel. But much like this one it is doubtful anyone will put in the time.
Director: Shane Black
Runtime: 107 min
Rated: R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, and crude sexual references