The Predator (2018)
It’s a fairly common habit for a film studio to seek out a particularly skilled director who has an established track record with regard handling specific types of movies, only to subsequently micro-manage and impede them as they go about the task they were employed to do. The net result is often a movie that falls between two stools and lacks any conviction. Furthermore, this is a malady that seems to happen far more often with genre movies. All too often you’ll read about film makers that endured tumultuous productions, running battles with studio executives and ultimately chose to disassociate themselves from the final cut of a movie. With The Predator, we have a curious situation where the opposite appears to be true. Genre luminaries Shane Black and Fred Dekker were both hired to write the screenplay and Black then went on to direct this fourth instalment in the franchise. The idea was to use their established talents to create something that would please core fans and return to the spirit of the first movie. Yet I can only describe the finished results as a classic case of trying too hard. The Predator feels like a caricature of its predecessors and fails to hit its mark.
Army Ranger sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) and his team are attacked by a "classic" Predator while on a hostage retrieval mission. McKenna incapacitates the Predator and escapes with part of its armour as a government team arrive. McKenna suspecting the worse sends his evidence by courier to his former home address. After being arrested by government agent Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), he written off as "insane" and used as an alibi to cover the governments tracks. McKenna is subsequently shipped off with a bus full of other "troubled" ex-army members. This includes ex-Marine Gaylord "Nebraska" Williams, military veterans Coyle and Baxley, helicopter pilot Nettles, and Lynch, another ex-Marine. Meanwhile Traeger takes the captured Predator to a lab for experimentation and observation, recruiting evolutionary biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to study it. The Predator awakes, breaks out of its bonds, and escapes so it can find it's missing equipment that is now in the hands of McKenna's autistic son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay). However, it becomes apparent that a second genetically enhanced Predator is en route, pursuing its own agenda.
It's difficult to know where to start, as there as so many aspects of the film that are problematic. Many of them have been raised by others already. But here are a few off the top of my head that stand out. The plot is tediously generic, simply falling back on an arbitrary trope to justify a “bigger and better” monster (which is neither). The protagonists (and antagonists) are cookie-cutter characters who have zero development. The dialogue strives to be hardboiled, punctuated by dry quips and banter, but sadly comes across as crass, unrelenting and strident, like teenagers trying to out gross each other. The film reeks of re-editing and frequent changes to the production. Characters and plot devices come and go, such as Jake Busey as Scientist Sean Keyes, the son of Peter Keyes from Predator 2 (played by his own father Gary Busey). The alien dog storyline also runs out of steam and ends up being killed quickly out of frame. Then there’s the unpleasant trend of portraying autism as some kind of super power or novelty ability. The action scenes are violent but soulless and of course the villain is underused. The list goes on and on.
What The Predator clearly needed was for the writers to be reined in and for each idea to be developed in a measured and relevant fashion. The “everything bar the kitchen sink” approach that permeates the movie quickly becomes wearing. I have only seen Boyd Holbrook previously in Logan; a role in which he was more of a plot device rather than a defining aspect of the movie. On the strength of The Predator I am far from convinced he can carry a film such as this. Even the score by Henry Jackman overreaches itself. It riffs on previous cues and themes by Alan Silvestri too frequently and the new material sounds more satirical than a homage. The only flashes of inspiration remain the Predator make up effects work by Tom Woodruff Jr (but only for the “classic” predator) and for the brief exchanges of dialogue between the school bullies (it reminded me so much of the Monster Squad). But these are just fleeting positive aspects during one hundred and six minutes of bad choices. I am still aghast that a studio such as Twentieth Century Fox could spend $88 million on an established franchise, employ the best in the genre writing and production wise, only to still fumble the ball so monumentally.
The Predator franchise has spawned numerous comics and novels that have endeavoured to approach the core story from new and innovative angles. Why have none of these been optioned or at least used as a premise for a bespoke screenplay? For example, setting Predator hunts in different periods of world history is a promising premise. Why not explore the backstory of the Predator culture and history? Are there other alien cultures that oppose Predator hunts? Is there any form of law enforcement body that intercedes in their activities? All of these ideas are better and more to the point, have the scope to be developed into something far superior to the sorry mess that is The Predator. Perhaps the studio will reflect upon such feedback before they proceed with yet another instalment. I won’t hold my breath however, as film studios are notoriously tone deaf when it comes to feedback and franchise management. The Predator despite all it’s failings still doubled its budget at the world box office. And the way the movie ends sets things up nicely for further sequels, although given the standard of this one and it’s childish cliffhanger, who would want more of the same?