THE PREDATOR is frustrating for a number of reasons. That said, it’s also (damning with faint praise) the best Predator sequel we’ve had so far.
The extraterrestrial Predator species returns to Earth in the form of a fleeing renegade carrying world-changing technology and an evolved super-Predator hunting him down. Humanity, as always, stands slap-bang in the middle of the carnage and our only hope may well be a group of unstable military criminals who find themselves in the wrong place at the right time…
The action is pretty well-mounted, pleasingly splattery and incorporating a surprising amount of slapstick. The message is quite clear here: humans using Predator weapons is very, very bad for your health and limb count. As creative and technically impressive as these sequences are, they could have picked some more interesting locations to shoot them in; science lab to suburbs to quarry to the woods in the middle of the night doesn’t exactly aid them lingering in your memory.
Olivia Munn has to work really hard to make her scientist character Dr Bracket stand out among all the masculine joshing and posturing of the soldiers. The film’s worst scene is an almost carbon copy of the worst film from the original PREDATOR; transposed from a helicopter to a bus and a load of guys just being toxic for the sake of being toxic. She is the most capable of the team, except when she completely misjudges the right moment to try and tranquilise a Predator, a moment of physical comedy she plays beautifully.
You can tell Black is a dog person, because he’s found a space in an overstuffed and chaotic action film for an unexpectedly adorable Predator-dog. I think this dog probably gets more nuanced character development than anyone in the human cast, which is discouraging.
The film has a character problem. Broad-strokes characters can work, if they serve their purpose to the plot and they’re memorable. Even a few hours after I watched the film I couldn’t name anyone except Dr Bracket, and I certainly couldn’t recount any of their backstories, such as they were. As far as character traits go, Keegan-Michael Key joked to stop his PTSD setting in, Thomas Jayne had sporadic Tourette’s and Sterling K Brown chews gum all the time; that’s about all I can recall. They’re just not given enough interesting to do and they certainly don’t get character arcs.
When, in the penultimate action scene, you’ve no idea whether a key character is living or dead – or even how they died if they did – you know there’s a problem in the edit. There’s no real clear through-line in any of this. While individual scenes flow well enough, the wider story flits and skips. It would be interesting to see what was left on the cutting room floor (aside for the well-publicised excision) and whether it helped the while thing make more sense.
It never becomes especially clear why the renegade Predator wants to help us. No matter how outmatched it was on its homeworld by its more evolved cousins, what does it gain by helping humanity? You can only take “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” concept that ALIEN VS PREDATOR built its story (such as it was) around so far.
In anyone else’s hands, all this would be considered perfectly serviceable, but in Shane Black’s, you just want a little more. When your best non-Tourette’s-based line is “We called it the Predator because it sounds cooler” you feel a writer as talented as Black could have given the script another pass. The Predator delivers cheap thrills and blood splatter, and may set up a more interesting sequel if this one does well enough, but it’s sadly too disjointed and half-baked to stand up on its own. SSP