Director: Shane Black
Writer(s): Shane Black & Fred Dekker
Starring: Olivia Munn, Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, and Augusto Aguilera
Reviewed by Evan Maroun
The Predator has had a lot of chatter surrounding it leading up to its release. Most of it, not great. First, Shane Black decided to cast an actual predator in the film without even mentioning it to anyone on set (not a good look, dude), down to a tonally inconsistent release of trailers–the combination of the two may have put a lot of movie-goers off. Even as a fan of the franchise, I’ll admit, It had me worried. The first Predator is still mentioned in the pantheon of great action movies to this day. The many that have followed it have varied in quality. Unfortunately, it has mostly been a steady decline. I’m also very annoyed we have three movies that all sound so similar: Predator, The Predator, and Predators. If the next film is called The Predators, I may choke a studio exec.
So with Hawkins, er- I mean Black, not only writing but directing this latest film in the franchise, does he bring the series back to its roots or push it forward out of the thick mud of mediocrity the series has caked itself in?
The Predator has a very simple plot, but it works to put the focus on what fans go to these movies to see: Predators doing what they do best, and people just trying to survive. The story follows Quinn McKenna, a Sniper (Boyd Holbrook) who, along with a very exuberant group of wise-cracking soldiers (Trevante Rhodes, Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, Alfie Allen, and Augusto Aguilera) run from the government and help McKenna save his son, Rory, who has gotten his hands on some Predator Tech–and the deadly hunters want it back.
Sometimes these movies struggle with the set-up, taking too long to actually get going and establish themselves before the 2nd act, but the pacing of The Predator is so snappy that it doesn’t have that problem. The film assumes you have seen a Predator movie. Yet doesn’t bother much with the history other movies have tried toying with.
It wastes no time introducing everyone. That scene on the bus in the trailer with the whole squad talking? That’s in the first 15 minutes. You go from location to location, set-piece to set-piece which action fans will no doubt eat up. The action ramps up of course. However, it never reaches its full potential, mainly because there is not much tension in this movie. It often goes unsaid, but a big part of what makes memorable action has to do with how you create tension. Just ask the latest Mission Impossible. It comes in small doses here. When the movie creates an inkling of it, it’s quickly squandered. We either know what happens because the trailer spoiled it or someone makes a joke to break it.
That brings us to surprisingly the strongest part of the film: The Cast. It’s not hard to tell, but the actors are having a blast just being in this movie. I was worried whenever I saw that moment in the trailer with Keegan-Michael Key cracking that lame video game joke and laughing harder than it warranted (more on that later). Luckily, the cast is what is really holding this movie up from total collapse. It’s quite a big departure from the more serious and dark entries that have come before it. The movie is primarily an action-comedy, and they lean pretty hard into the comedy.
Holbrook is the one really grounding this loveable bunch of degenerates. While many of them are turned up to 11, he manages to reel the group in as a whole. Despite the crazy situation they are in, wherever these guys are, that’s where the party is at. It makes even the most badly written situation or scene into a tolerable one.
On an individual level, the performances of the others range from great with Trevante Rhodes playing a notable character named Nebraska, to very forgettable and underutilized with Alfie Allen’s character. Outside of the group of soldiers, this is the first time I’ve seen Olivia Munn in a more prominent role. She holds it together along with Holbrook. At times she takes a back seat to the more rambunctious set of characters on display, but that isn’t her fault. Jacob Tremblay as Mckenna’s son is pretty believable, minus a strange plot detail. Finally, we have Sterling K. Brown who takes a more antagonistic turn here but still manages to be quite the likable asshole.
While the actors are having fun playing these over-the-top parts, the main problem with the film lies in something unexpected from a Shane Black feature: The script. Regardless of your thoughts on Iron Man 3, the man knows how to write witty dialogue and tell stories with style. Here, it really does seem like he phones it in. Fred Dekker also joins him for the scripting duties. It’s hard to say what or who is to blame here.
I mentioned that joke from Keegan-Michael Key earlier, and that’s unfortunately not an isolated incident. He also gives dialogue to characters that while they may be good for a quick chuckle, doesn’t make sense. Why is Sterling K. Brown, the head of this classified division, like a bro? Olivia Munn’s character tells him that technically they shouldn’t be called predators because they don’t kill others for survival, or something to that effect. You can see his response in the trailer “Well, we all agreed that predator sounds cooler, right guys?” It’s like, who appointed you to this position?
They also do something with one of the predator’s “dogs” that I thought was gonna be a one-off moment, but they really roll with it. It just comes across as straight up silly. It’s choices like this that start to add up and make what could’ve been a solid entry in the franchise into something pretty middle-of-the-road.
Funny enough, the ending does leave off with an interesting idea for a future film that really would shake up the series, but who knows if they will pursue that or not. I guess that’s up to audiences who vote with their wallet.
Verdict: Wait for VOD or rent it.
A fun cast and some solid moments of action are muddled by some strange script choices by Black and Dekker and a lingering feeling that we could’ve gotten something much more exciting out of it.