Predator, The (United States, 2018)

September 13, 2018
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Predator, The Poster

Predator is one of those tired franchises that Hollywood simply won’t give up on. Maybe a box office bonanza will justify Fox’s faith but this sixth entry in the series feels too much like a tired retread to be worth making a trip to a theater. The first film was designed primarily as an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, although the monster was popular enough to warrant a lackluster sequel. After that came the two horrifically bad Alien v. Predator movies (the first was B-movie garbage; the second was an atrocity) and an attempt by Nimrod Antal to reclaim things. It didn’t really work – the Alien v. Predator cash-grab had forever tainted both franchises and that remains the biggest drawback to being enthusiastic about The Predator. Although director Shane Black (who appeared as an actor in the 1987 original) denies the existence of the Alien v. Predator duology, the bad taste lingers.

The story reads like generic science fiction: “bad aliens” come to Earth and a group of quirky, mismatched, outgunned survivors band together to defeat them. The qualities that made the Predators unique have been reduced to quirks. They are essentially Big Bad Movie Monsters – slasher film antagonists in xenomorph garb. The Predators’ prey are one-dimensional characters who function much the same as victims in horror flicks. You can play the “who gets killed in what order” game if you want. Of course, this being a macho movie, there are no teenage campers having sex, so the comparison is imperfect.

Black is a capable action director so the individual fight scenes are well-executed and occasionally involving. It might have helped the excitement level if we had more than a passing affinity for any of the characters. The streak of gallows humor running through the proceedings produces a few good laughs (in bad taste). Unfortunately, the levity undercuts any tension – a quality which The Predator is sorely lacking.

The movie saved some money in the casting department. There’s not a single A-list actor to be found, which I suppose is apt since The Predator is nothing more than a glorified B-movie. Boyd Holbrook has the most screen time and his character is imbued with more than a little Martin Riggs. (Black wrote Lethal Weapon.) His posse includes Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, and a couple of others. Olivia Munn is the obligatory ass-kicking PhD – sort of this film’s answer to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. Well, maybe not quite.

The Predator is established as a sequel to Predator, Predator 2, and Predators, with events in those films having occurred. This movie opens with the crash-landing of a Predator in Mexico. The creature is initially spotted by an army assassin, Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), on assignment. He takes some of the Predator’s gear and mails it to his autistic young son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay), for safekeeping. To keep Quinn quiet, the government plans to have him incarcerated. Meanwhile, the injured and heavily sedated alien is taken to a super-secret lab run by a psycho named Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), whose goal is to weaponize the creatures. (This is a common desire shared by the bad guys in the Alien series and the Jurassic World movies.) He recruits expert Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) for his team but, soon after her arrival, all hell breaks loose. Another Predator arrives, the first one escapes, and Quinn and his new team of ex-cons (having executed a takeover of the bus carting them off to prison) arrive on site in time to join forces with Casey.

Good science fiction movies always have at least one “Whoa!” moment – a signature instance that viewers remember long after many of the story details fade away. The Predator offers nothing of the sort – it’s a cobbled-together series of scenes and moments from its predecessors and other franchises. It’s a close cousin to Predators in that its desire to recapture some long-lost magic is tinged with desperation. It’s not there. For all the special effects, pyrotechnics, and visual razzle-dazzle, the movie feels more like affectionate fan-fic than a big-budget extension. Oh, and The Predator is a guy in a creature suit, which would be fine if it didn’t look like a guy in a creature suit. I couldn’t decide if this bit of campiness was intentional or not. There are enough times when Black’s tongue is planted firmly in his cheek that’s it’s possible. Then again, it may just be an attempt at retro creature design that isn’t terribly impressive in this era of motion capture.

To its credit, The Predator tries to do something a little different than the previous sequels, both of which copied (to one degree or another) the beats of the original. The core problem remains, however. The Predator may look cool and do creatively bloody things to its prey but it was never all that interesting. That’s why John McTiernan’s movie put the focus squarely on Schwarzenegger and his band of Merry Men. Nostalgia and Brand Awareness might boost The Predator’s box office performance to acceptable levels but the movie exemplifies the lackluster result of exhuming played-out franchises that are better left buried.

Predator, The (United States, 2018)

Director: Shane Black
Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Sterling K. Brown, Thomas Jane, Jake Busey, Yvonne Strahovski
Home Release Date: 2018-12-18
Screenplay: Fred Dekker & Shane Black
Cinematography: Larry Fong
Music: Henry Jackman
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 1:47
U.S. Release Date: 2018-09-14
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Gore, Profanity)
Genre: Science Fiction/Action
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1