The Predator: Ain’t That a Shane, by Scott Nye
The Predator is an alien hunter, an efficient killing machine that may toy with its prey, but strikes quickly and boldly when it senses a kill. It makes sense that the films would, to some degree, reflect this – you can have some humor and play, but at the end of the day, you’d better move quickly to the kills. Shane Black’s The Predator, the latest film in one of our more intermittent franchises, certainly takes that model. But it moves too quickly. The rhythm and movement between the comedy and carnage is quite disjointed, and the rather clever ways they find to utterly decimate a human body often get lost in the editing. The cast seems to be operating on a few different planes of reality, and mostly, it feels as though someone took a rather weird narrative and told everyone involved to play it as straight as possible.
Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is an Army Ranger whose last mission went to hell after a certain alien crash-landed where his raid was set to take place. Now the U.S. government – which as we know, hates loose ends – is trying to put him away as some kind of lunatic. After all, who else goes around talking about aliens? He’s on the bus to some facility better equipped to handle him when, wouldn’t you know it, a big ol’ space alien breaks out of holding and starts terrorizing the military base. Now Quinn has a choice – sit back and let this thing kill again, or break out of military psychiatric prison alongside a gang of genuinely unstable people (Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, and Augusto Aguilera form the rest of the ragtag bunch) and put a stop to this thing. Well, what else is an Army Ranger to do?
I’d like to say that the story proceeds with the degree of inspiration with which it began. Instead, it hurdles along with a sort of inattentive frenzy, unaware of how to make an audience feel a single story beat – or even most of the jokes – it attempts. The jokes get repetitive, a continuous drag of nerd-bro humor that aims for the same audience as the 1987 original – angry young men – but does at least recognize that they occupy themselves with video games and Adult Swim rather than shopping malls and rock music. The hulking machismo of John McTiernan’s classic has been transformed into a petty, cheap string of burn-out jokes (“how do you circumcise a homeless man” indeed) and incomprehensible violence.
Don’t get me wrong, I love grotesque, crazy violence as much as the next idiot, so believe me when I say that for a film that starts – that starts – by revealing an invisible Predator to our hero by drowning him in the blood of the man he just sawed in half, I struggle to recall more than a handful of other kills. This is not because those are not interesting. Far from it. Bodies are maimed in countless insane ways. But because none of it is presented with finesse, rhythm, or feeling, none of them make a lasting impression fifteen seconds after you briefly went “hey did that guy’s whole arm just go flying?” There’s little in Shane Black’s brief directorial career (which otherwise consists of Nice Guys, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Iron Man Three) that suggests he should be any more capable of presenting a dynamic action scene, and The Predator does not change that perception. Cinematographer Larry Fong (Batman v Superman: Dark of Justice, Kong: Skull Island) lands a decent composition here and there, but the whole thing feels cheap and underdeveloped.
If the film had more going for it otherwise, this would be forgivable, but it can’t tell a joke much better than it can land a kill. Jane, as tourette-syndrome-afflicted vet, gets the best laughs, and thankfully not solely because of jokes over his condition. Holbrook has a certain arch charm. Jacob Tremblay, as his autistic son, gives an Actually Good performance, which this film can’t sustain. Olivia Munn plays her biologist completely straight. None of these performances belong in the same film, and that’s without even touching Sterling K. Brown’s whacked-out government agent.
Not counting the films in which the Predator fights Alien, there have been three prior films in this franchise, including the initial installment. Its most recent installment came out in 2010. To make a Predator film today, one needs to first flatly answer the question, “why now?” The Predator never does. It feels like an entry designed to keep a franchise going by giving its fans the bare minimum until they can get to the next one. But what significant crowd is out there begging for more Predator? I suppose we’ll find out. Those less invested will have little reason to stay.