Black’s The Predator a Violently Comedic Disappointment
Over 30 years ago a dense Central American forest was visited by a new kind of interstellar hunter, this creature tearing apart an elite mercenary unit and a hardened CIA operative as if they were butter until their leader, the lone survivor of the assault, beat this killer at its own game. Not too long afterward, another one of these alien sportsmen came calling, this time heading to a gang-ridden Los Angeles in order to stalk members of a vaunted LAPD assault team, their determined commander ending this being’s hunt before it could collect its final two trophies.
In Mexico, decorated sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) has a run-in with one of these alien visitors, absconding with its headgear and one of its gauntlets as he tries to make his way back to the United States. Mailing these items to his wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski) and autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) before being taken into custody, turns out this particular Predator isn’t visiting Earth to hunt, those stolen artifacts having surprising value to the creature. With a clandestine government operative (Sterling K. Brown) looking to shut him up permanently, McKenna teams up with evolutionary biologist Dr. Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn) and a ragtag group of psychologically unbalanced military prisoners (Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera) all suffering from PTSD and affectionately dubbed “The Loonies” in order to protect his son, never imagining that by doing so the fate of the entire planet might be falling into their lethal hands in the process.
Picking up after the events of 1987’s Predator, 1990’s Predator 2 and 2010’s Predators, director and co-writer Shane Black’s (who starred in the original as the ill-fated communications officer Hawkins) The Predator is a perplexing misfire. Funny, well cast, featuring a couple of strong, imaginative moments that are suitably thrilling, this sequel is nonetheless a convoluted, haphazardly plotted mess that grows more tiresome and visually chaotic as it moves towards its frenetic and rushed conclusion. Black and co-writer Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps) put so much emphasis on the comedy and so little on the actual story it is almost as if the pair made their narrative up as shooting progressed. This last third is particularly frustrating, and as good as the likes of Holbrook, Tremblay, Brown, Munn, Rhodes, Key and Jane might be, to say I could have cared less if any of them lived or died wouldn’t be too far from the truth.
If that sounds harsh that’s by design. Casting controversies aside which I’m not going to go into detail here (which are admittedly still head-scratching in their stupidity considering this film’s plot; kudos to Munn for standing up and saying what needed to be said and forcing the studio to do the right thing), but this sequel’s problems are legion. As good as a lot of the jokes Black and Dekker have dreamt up, and as terrific as the cast might be at delivering most of them, the central crux driving the plot forward is, to put it bluntly, stupid. The reasons the Predators have been coming to Earth to hunt, what they have planned for our planet, it’s just silly, and once the truth is revealed it’s possible I audibly sighed in flabbergasted disappointment.
Then there are the action sequences. Where Black has shown himself to be a consummate craftsman in the past with his handling of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Iron Man 3 and The Nice Guys, here things are edited so frenetically keeping visual track of what is happening, especially during the climactic home stretch, is impossible. It’s chaos apparently for the sake of chaos. Characters go this way and that. A massive Predator transforms into an interstellar cross of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, John Rambo, the Black Panther and that preacher werewolf hunting country redneck rubes in the fog in 1985’s Silver Bullet. One of the film’s principals is dispatched with such careless indifference it likely would have had more of a visceral impact had Black just staged the moment off-screen and been done with it. The ending is a nonsensical jumble that makes jokes out of its heroes and a buffoon out of its supposedly unstoppable titular character. As for the risible epilogue featuring CGI visual effects straight out of a video game circa 1995, the less said about that misbegotten moment the better.
Black’s film is funny, there’s no denying that. This cast of irregular regulars is having an obvious blast as they learn to work together to battle this supposedly unstoppable force while also rediscovering their heroic tendencies that made them great soldiers before calamity sent them all spiraling into psychological despair. The relationship between Jane and Key is particularly affecting, their final moment together, one that should have been nothing short of terrible considering the way in which it is showcased and staged, still has an undeniable emotional component that took me by surprise. The two actors craft a purely human moment inside all of this violently comic mayhem that’s extraordinary, and if the film had done a better job of balancing its humor, action and horror in the same manner this scene does than it’s likely I’d have responded to it with a bit more positivity.
Sadly this isn’t the case. While John McTiernan’s original Predator remains one of the great action-horror hybrids of the 1980s (and maybe of all-time), Black’s The Predator proves to be a facile and misguided continuation that can’t help but pale in comparison. Heck, even if the comedy component is rather nice I must admit I actually enjoy Stephen Hopkins’ Predator 2 more than I do this tired bit of unfocused pandemonium, and other than Danny Glover and a kick-butt climax I don’t really like that first sequel all that much. (In the spirit of full transparency, I do enjoy Nimród Antal’s Predators quite a bit, and feel it has only gotten better over time.) I’m really not sure what Black was trying to do here, where he and Dekker imagined things were going to go next. All I do know is that this sequel might be one of the more stupefying and frustrating disappointments of 2018, and a big part of me kind of wishes I hadn’t watched it in the first place.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)