By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 24, 2018
2018 – YEAR IN RETROSPECT review
Released Sep. 14, 2018
Rated R – 1hr 47min
Directed by Shane Black
Starring Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Trevante Rhodes, Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key
The third official sequel to the 1987 classic Predator – when a US special forces sniper (Holbrook) on assignment in Mexico encounters a downed alien spacecraft, he sets into motion a sequence of events that will see him placed into martial custody and the infamous space-faring hunter-killers descend upon his hometown in pursuit of his son. He will team up with a ragtag band of military misfits (Jane, Key, & others) and a rogue government biologist (Munn) to save the young boy and secure crucial technology from the predators that may decide the fate of the human race.
The Predator is both a rip-roaring callback to over-the-top ’80s action and a surprisingly irreverent satire of both the genre and the series. While it may polarize audiences with its somewhat parodic tone, its sights are set on offering up a fun thrill-ride experience.
When I say that it may polarize audiences, I mean that it absolutely has. While its core fanbase may be somewhat smaller in scale, the scope of the backlash against The Predator can be considered on par with Star Wars: The Last Jedi or the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot (although the dynamics here appear much different). The top 50 user reviews on popular movie site IMDb range from moderately negative to cataclysmic rants of pure acidic hatred. You could distill the bile flying from the mouths of lifelong Predator fans and manufacture car batteries with it – that’s how bad the reaction is. This site – Terror Spective – launched during the film’s opening weekend, and given the putrid feedback from its fan community, I opted to skip it in favor of covering a different new release, Mandy. Now, having seen this, I don’t regret that decision.
Do you fear the villains in your sci-fi franchise might be getting a little stale? When in doubt, add a bigger one.
Now, that isn’t to say that The Predator is a terrible movie. The story is certainly a hot mess that doesn’t much hold up to scrutiny and makes a good argument as to how simpler can be better. A lot of things happen throughout the course of the narrative, and many of those things hinge on choices that are ill-advised, at the absolute best. The catalytic decision that sets off the ridiculous chain reaction to follow involves our not-particularly-sympathetic hero, Capt. Quinn McKenna, absconding some Predator technology from the crash site and having it packaged and mailed to himself where, through a lack of forethought, it winds up in the hands of his young autistic son. This just doesn’t hold up to the later revelation that our chief protagonist is a many-times decorated and highly respected soldier, but it is somewhat consistent with the additional reveal that he is a generally careless father – it’s a rather baffling and overly complicated setup for an action epic.
Ok – maybe it is, technically speaking, a terrible movie. Once McKenna and his band of military psychiatric patients roll into his hometown, they are able to procure weapons, vehicles, and even a helicopter – all without attention or confrontation with law enforcement as they blast their way from location to location on Halloween night. That’s just a representation of one of many grand suspensions of disbelief or gaping plot inconsistencies that exist within The Predator. I totally get that this is both an homage and send-up of the uproariously impossible action set pieces of the 1980’s, but many of the classics from that lot kept their stories simple. This movie, in relation, has a narrative that is akin to rolling down a hill in a barrel. There’s more concerns to be had as well, including lines of dialogue that fall like lead weights, some flimsy-looking CGI, and characters that don’t particularly contribute much to the final outcome. Those last two points might be, or likely are, the result of a third act that was quickly thrown together and re-shot shortly before release as both studio executives and test audiences apparently loathed the original climax.
The film that dares to answer the question “Do the Predators have doggos, and if so, are they good boys?” The answer would be ‘Yes’ to both.
That’s a lot of baggage for one movie to overcome – especially a high-profile sequel eight years in the waiting – but it’s not a total loss. The Predator makes for a fantastic pizza-and-beer flick to be watched with friends, where no one’s full attention is being demanded and everybody can just revel in the absurdity of it all. There are some genuinely fun action sequences to be enjoyed and intentional humor to be laughed at throughout, and I admit that it was at least fun to watch – there just wasn’t much pleasure to be had in thinking about it afterward.
So, the fan community went up in arms over this iteration of the Predator mythos, and for the most part, I understand it. It’s hardly ‘the worst movie ever’, a pejorative that’s thrown around with such frequency that it doesn’t mean anything anymore, but it’s in the running for being the least of the franchise. I’m including the 2 Alien Vs. Predator films in that assessment, because without them, there would be no debate. I don’t regret watching it or shelling out the money for a mere rental, but would not have felt the same way about paying for IMAX after months of eagerly anticipating the new entry of one of my favorite series. Now, after disappointing at the box office too, it will likely be years more before the fearsome extraterrestrial stalkers return to the screen.