After laying dormant for the better part of a decade, one of the great sci-fi franchises (well, great movie with sequels of varying quality) has returned. Director Shane Black was the man tasked with reviving the famed hunters with The Predator. So, how did he do? Well, it would be very fair to say that Black has crafted an entertaining movie that is very much on-brand for what he does and suits his sensibilities as a filmmaker. That said, the final product is also a complete and utter mess that ends up being quite a blast, almost despite itself. It’s a mixed bag situation.
The movie kicks off with a Predator crash-landing on Earth. An unlucky soldier by the name of Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) who was just doing his job happens to witness the whole thing. He rightfully assumes nobody will believe him and decides to secure some proof. That turns out to be a decision that comes with consequences. His young son, who suffers from Asperger’s, gets his hands on the alien gear and that leads the fight straight to the suburbs. All the while, a mysterious government body is very interested in what the Predators can teach us and what it is they want with our planet. It turns out that the already lethal hunters have been genetically upgrading themselves with DNA from other species. Now, it’s up to McKenna and a group of battle-hardened and eccentric soldiers to save the day.
Part of the reason that the original Predator works so well is that it’s quite simple. Some guys in the jungle discover a deadly alien and it turns into a visually awesome game of cat and mouse. Pretty cut and dry. The various sequels have wrestled with the issue of expanding the Predator mythology while maintaining that balance that was struck so perfectly in 1987 by the great John McTiernan. Shane Black doesn’t bother with that. Instead, he kind of goes the Jurassic World route and, instead of scaling back, he notches everything up, widens the scope and heavily increases the stakes. So if you’re hoping this will be a back to basics sort of approach, sorry to disappoint.
Shane Black is known for blending humor and action. That is on full display here. To what degree one enjoys having a lot of jokes thrown into something like The Predator may hinder or increase the level of joy to be had. At times, the jokes fall flat and at other times they’re the movie’s saving grace. But this movie doesn’t take itself terribly seriously in that respect. The humor is ever-present. That said, the R-rated bloodshed, bullets and language are also by no means in short supply. It’s ultra-violent and we don’t experience a lot of downtime. It would, at the very least, be impossible to accuse this movie of being boring.
The problem(s) stem from wildly inconsistent tone, primarily. The story is also somewhat complicated, pretty nonsensically. Even by Predator standards. There are moments and plot points that will have viewers scratching their heads. It’s a mess that avoids being a disaster, largely because the stuff that works winds up working quite well. The Predator looks great. The creatures themselves haven’t looked this good in some time. The cast is extremely likable once things get going and the interplay, though sometimes a bit much, is thoroughly enjoyable. Sterling K. Brown, specifically, manages to steal the show, as he does with most things he shows up in these days.
Is this what fans of the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger flick have been waiting for? Almost certainly not. This isn’t the Aliens or Terminator 2 of the franchise. Not by a long shot. And the threads that help set up possible sequels don’t do the future any favors. But damned if this movie, somehow, isn’t enjoyable. 20th Century Fox didn’t hit a home run, but they got a base hit, maybe even rounded second. For now, that’ll have to do.