Since the killer alien’s first outing way back in 1987 there have been several sequels that have tried (and failed) to recapture the magic that made the original so iconic and loved. When it was announced that Shane Black was writing and directing (co-written with Fred Dekker) the latest instalment in the Predator franchise, fan anticipation went into fever-pitch.
Back in the 80s, Black was the Hollywood wunderkind whose scripts contained whip-smart dialogue, unconventional character development, tight plotting and twists on the usual tropes. The industry lusted after his stories and it’s almost certainly these hallmarks that secured the gig for Black; a fresh take on a well-worn franchise that was in desperate need of updating all the while maintaining the 80s nostalgia fan service that is all the rage. Surely with this much pedigree behind the camera and the connections to the original (Black played the Predator’s first on-screen kill), this longmooted reboot/sequel was in safe hands?
The Predator starts off quite literally with a bang as our main protagonist, Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), discovers vital Predator technology at a crash site in Mexico. His team is soon dispatched by the first predator of the film, but he manages to escape before promptly mailing the stolen technology back to his home address in the US(?). It’s a promising scene that displays a lot of characteristics that made us adore the original – horror, gory violence and a claustrophobic setting all directed at breakneck speed. And therein lies one of The Predator’s main issues, this pace continues for the remainder of the film such that you barely have a chance to catch a breath.
Within the first 10 minutes you’re introduced to three subplots involving a shady government project, a rag-tag group of ex-soldiers all suffering from PTSD and the film’s second Predator, summoned unwittingly by Mckenna’s son Rory (the ever-reliable Jacob Tremblay) – an 11-foot monster that rampages from one scene to the next, far removed from The Predator’s stealthy predecessors. These subplots eventually convene for the obviously rushed final act (it’s no secret that The Predator entered extensive reshoots due to poor test-screenings), leaving the whole experience, surprisingly, underwhelming. You’re never allowed to fully appreciate some of the more interesting developments the script has to offer thanks to incoherent directing and quite frankly appalling editing. One key character is killed off in a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moment – it took me several minutes to realise they were no longer in the film, and we haven’t even mentioned the comedy yet.
Predator films have never shied away from humour to break up tense scenes, but these opportunities were used sparingly. The Predator however, is absolutely loaded with gags. Unfortunately, not all of them stick and some are outright archaic. It’s worth mentioning at this point that there are only two female characters: Mckenna’s ex-wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski), who manages to have roughly three minutes on screen, and evolutionary biologist, Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn). If anything saves The Predator it’s the cast, and despite their limited screen time and some dubious characterisation on mental health, they manage to deliver the character interplay convincingly, in sync with the pacy direction.
With the benefit of hindsight, The Predator works best as an action/comedy but Black and Dekker have written a script that appears to throw everything bar the kitchen sink into a 100-minute film. It’s simply too much and tonally off-kilter with past Predator films that leaned more towards their horror elements. Black’s usually reliable blend of action, humour and clever play on conventions is not nearly given enough time to develop. What saddens me the most is that while I want to believe this is down to studio tampering, I can’t help think that Black is out of touch with modern audiences.