Courtesy of Fox
Don’t call it a comeback.
But it’s been roughly 30 years since Arnold Schwarzenegger stood toe to toe with the feriocious alien creatures who doned slick armor, and racked up a decent sized body count. That film became a box office smash, and unleashed a heaping of sequels, tie-ins and spin offs which all failed to capture the type of energy “Predator” brought to the hunting arena.
If you can set aside the confusing mythology and timelines which strain from past entries, then the latest installment entitled singularly as “The Predator” - helmed by the always consistent Shane Black - will satisfy the sci-fi maniac inside you.
As a director and writer, Black has always been known for his witty banter and dialogue (their his mantra) with past films like “The Nice Guys” and “Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang” serving as fine examples of what he can do with a small scale budget. And even “Iron Man 3” (despite all the haters) was a solid big-budget adventure that did something, for me, as a viewer. Now, it’s tough to say if fans old and new will embrace this snazzy reboot, but the sold-out crowd I saw the film with ate it up like the blood-soaked babe it is.
Forget those awful (and PG13 rated) “Alien vs Predator” films, Black and fellow screenwriter Fred Dekker, wholesomely deliver a fresh pair of eyes to this dormant franchise (and a much warranted R rating). In a way, it travels back to the roots that made the first “Predator” a blast, while still carving out its own identity. Not all of it works, but as far as “Predator” sequels go - this is the best you’ll probably get.
Immediately from the start, Black wastes no time allowing the carnage to fly loose and quick. Introducing a fresh crop of characters that will be slim pickings once the mayhem kicks into gear. Not so easy a target is special force sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) who bares witness to an extraterrestrial attack, and thus becomes the focus of an investigation headed by Sterling K Brown’s snarky Traeger. McKenna definitely knows something, but he’s the type of rootin’ tootin’ gunslinger that spouts 15 cheese ball one-liners before breakfast. So nothing will bring him down.
For real though, much of Black and Dekker’s script infuses wink and nod humor into the narrative, which only hits the mark sparingly. The human element, however, is the most refreshing batch this franchise has ever seen. Combining segments of miscreants and outcasts with a sly twist. Next to the bloody and merciless thrashings, these guys own the movie.
From the top we’ve got Thomas Jane as a former marksmen with a bad case of tourettes (I know how that sounds, but Jane makes it work to his advantage); Comic actor Keegan-Michael Key (one half of Key and Peele) is his class-clown companion and ride or die buddy who survived a horrific attack; Olivia Munn also gets roped into the madness playing Dr. Casey Brackett from John Hopkins University, whose granted credentials because she wrote a letter to the president? In addition there’s Alfie Allen’s Australian Lynch and even Trevante Rhodes (from “Moonlight”) is given his beefiest role to date since the Oscar winning film (he barley registered in “12 Strong”) playing the second in command, Nebraska Williams. And we mustn’t forget that Jake Busy has a glorified cameo playing, of all things, a scientist.
Soon enough, they all become entangled in a game of “interstellar cops and robbers” as one character attempts to explain, with McKennas son (“Room’s” Jacob Trembly) sitting at the center of the chaos. But logic hardly seems to matter if Black continues to throw bodies on the floor - which he does, swimmingly. Still, at least you care about some of those bodies - each character has their own fleshed out background - and Black does a solid job at keeping us invested in the survival of our main comrades. So even though he may stray from the tone and structure of the original film, he takes things in a fun direction with snappy dialogue, gross out gags, and talented performances. Though, “The Predator” is never scary or suspenseful, lacking the type of gritty tension utilized in previous installments.
Regardless, Black’s movie is so cheekily over-the-top (a solid gag involves how the Predator receives its name) that some of those merits become easier to forgive. For every brutal throwdown, there’s a snappy joke from Key and Jane’s characters, combined with an eye-rolling tag that promises a return to this universe. With that said, the second half really does stumble. Coming off the sugar high from the first 45 minutes, it’s like Black threw so much nonsense at the screen, he couldn’t sustain the last run of the picture (including some costly reshoots). If not for a nostalgic Henry Jackman score, “The Predator” would’ve really suffered in those final minutes.
On the technical side, everything is sound and polished. Specifically the design of the new and evolved hunter predator who leaves a dozen or so mutilated bodies in his wake. The film also grounds itself over many residential locations that provide a good foundation for predator vs human (or predator vs predator) smack-downs. Most notable locations include a baseball field (equipped with predator dogs!) and a local middle school that gives home field advantage against the wild beasts.
Indeed that’s not the only element that makes vital sense to the compound of the film, but when Black employs a tactic and sticks with his brains - like an evolving predator - he can’t be stopped.