“The Predator” Movie Review


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     Writer / director Shane Black’s “The Predator” isn’t a great film by any stretch, but it is serviceable, and at least there’s a clear and discernible effort to step outside the lines established by the series’ 1987 original, rather than simply regurgitating what made that film a classic.  It’s no coincidence Black finds himself at the helm of the latest film in the creature franchise, given his appearance in the original as “Hawkins”, which establishes a sort of lineage to the material, but also his chops as a screenwriter, particularly in this genre, are well suited for the material.  Successful outings directing “Iron Man 3” and “The Nice Guys” can’t hurt either, though “The Predator” is set up as more of an ensemble piece, rather than the star driven casts that make his previous efforts more notable.  In this case, the actual star characters aren’t from this world.

     Black sets up the story utilizing a number of familiar 80s tropes, including his positioning of a young child at the forefront of the action and decision making processes throughout the film, which was a hallmark of nearly every Spielberg film of the era.  In the opening sequence, we meet McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), a decorated Army sniper currently on a mission to bag a couple of drug cartel kingpins somewhere in Mexico.  But suddenly an unidentified space craft crashes near by, and McKenna, along with his team, encounters the Predator having just landed after his ship was damaged during a battle in space.  McKenna survives, and also manages to lift pieces of armor from the ship, including the Predator’s face mask, while successfully escaping before government agents arrive on scene.

     McKenna is apprehended and brought back to the U.S., but not before mailing the alien items home, where his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), a boy genius, intercepts the package and prods the Predator technology for clues.  This results  in another Predator, flying around somewhere in space, monitoring the location of the devices and soon arriving on Earth for  reasons explained later.  Meanwhile, a secretive government agency enlists the services of Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), looking to tap into her expertise as a lauded biologist from Johns Hopkins University, though the reasoning for her sticking around the entire film is paper thin at best.  

     “The Predator” is a direct sequel to the events of the 1987 and 1990 films in that the leader of the agency investigating our visitors, Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), indicates their knowledge of what happened in both films, which leads to the present where the Predator McKenna ran into in Mexico is now captured and being studied.  But in similar fashion to the storyline in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, the government has chosen to keep their operation top secret, and expendable soldiers like McKenna are either killed or sent to a place where they will never be heard from again in order to keep what they have witnessed under wraps.  And as McKenna is being bused to his certain fate along with a rag tag group of misfit ex-military types, all hell breaks loose when the bus arrives at the agency’s location at the request of Casey who insists on interviewing McKenna.

     Black’s script, which was co-written with Fred Dekker, is punched up with a litany of vulgar dialogue delivered mostly by those same misfits I spoke of earlier, which include Baxley (Thomas Jane), Lynch (Alfie Allen), Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), Nettles (Augusto Aguilera), and Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes).  Each are charged throughout with delivering the jokes and one liners that are very much in the same spirit as Black’s “Hawkins” did in the original film.  And given this is the fourth film in the series (unless you count those two awful “Alien vs Predator” mashups), you had to figure the filmmakers would up the gore factor considerably, as the dozens of people killed are shot, knifed, beheaded, slashed, and literally torn apart in the most gruesome of ways.  But that would be expected right?

     Fact is, the Predator creatures and the spiffy weapons and tech that come with them are a novelty that has long worn off given their appearance in five other films, leaving the filmmakers who tackle this material with the gargantuan task of somehow presenting something that feels fresh and original.  Unfortunately, Black isn’t able to come up with a sequence that sets itself apart from any of the previous films or films of the genre for that matter.  It’s much of the same car chases, gun fights, and Predator mayhem we’ve seen done countless times, but instead of playing everything serious, each scene is packed with comedy in the face of death, even from the Predators themselves.  And while some of this will definitely garner laughs from the audience, it’s not enough to carry the entire film.  At some point, there has to be a certain amount of substance, and the film’s third act simply can’t recover from all of the one liners, especially when the human characters begin to do things physically speaking that are either impossible or highly improbable to simply get up and walk away from.

     The characters themselves are probably as entertaining as Dutch and company were in the 1987 classic, but the storyline is choppy and often times more complicated than it really needs to be.  I liked Nimrod Antal’s and Robert Rodriguez’s collaboration on 2010’s “Predators” in which the off world action seemed to resonate with the story in a way that having the title characters invade Earth does not.  Perhaps if you could take Black’s colorful script and inject it into the 2010 film, you just might have the perfect “Predator”.  Of course, we get one of those in “The Predator” as well, but the juiced up version doesn’t bring anything new to the table, unless you really like dogs.  GRADE: C