It’s been more than 30 years since audiences were first introduced to the universe’s deadliest hunter in 1987’s “Predator,” a testosterone-fueled action flick that helped define the over-the-top tone of the era. Since then, sequels and crossover films have failed to capture the interstellar reptilian magic of the original. Now, we can add the latest addition to the series, “The Predator,” to the attempts list.
Directed and co-written by Shane Black, who played squad member Hawkins in the original film, “The Predator” follows Army sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), who has a close encounter with a predator when its ship crash-lands nearby during a mission. The alien hunter kills his squad, but McKenna escapes, and is interrogated about the incident by a shadowy government group that has worked to keep the predators’ existence a secret.
Dr. Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn), a biologist with a penchant for aliens, is summoned by the group to investigate a captured predator, which is believed to have human DNA. Known as the Fugitive, that predator is actually on the run from a larger, more advanced predator, or Yautja, known as the Upgrade — a hulking, 11-foot-tall monster with bulletproof skin and plenty of aggression. Ever the warrior, McKenna joins another squad known as The Loonies — a group of downtrodden military veterans — to stop the Upgrade and save the world.
For an action movie, that’s pretty complicated, and, as a result “The Predator” suffers from serious tone and pacing issues. Instead, it feels more on par with Black’s other movings — think “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” or “Lethal Weapon.” It doesn’t much feel like a “Predator” movie; the horror elements that permeated the original and made it so compelling are gone. If the rule in the 1987 film was to show the monster as little as possible, the order here is to show the monster early and often. Black makes up for that lack of suspense with plenty of gore, making it feel like “Rambo IV” with space aliens.
Mostly, “The Predator” isn’t sure if it wants to be a comedy or not. The characters — a suicidal ex-corporal (Trevante Rhodes), a military veteran with Tourette syndrome (Thomas Jane), and another who copes with PTSD through humor (Keegan-Michael Key) — spew endless quips. While “Predator” had a sense of humor, it wasn’t front-and-center like it is with Black’s version.
And good luck caring for any of the film’s primary squad. It moves at such a quick pace that any character development is impossible, and despite inklings of deconstructing the machismo of The Loonies — like “Predator” did with its original group — “The Predator” jumps to gunplay too quickly for any real growth to occur. Many characters are killed off so nonchalantly, you might have to go back and check to make sure they died. The guys learn that they are at their best with weapons in hand — an odd message for a film that hints at the idea that war has very real consequences for the people who fight it.
This is far from the only idea shoehorned into an overcomplicated story: McKenna’s son, Rory (“Room” Oscar nominee Jacob Tremblay) is on the spectrum, and has “Rain Man”-like mental prowess when it comes to alien technology. As a result, the big, bad Upgrade considers him to be the “next step in human evolution,” and the predator plans to capture Rory and harvest his spinal fluid. That’s too big of an idea to be executed in such a ham-fisted, passing way.
As the film’s token female lead, Munn’s character is boiled down to simply a romantic conquest. She begins “The Predator” as a wholly-formed character. However, as the film marches on, she becomes just another person capable of firing a weapon. But in 2018, after the likes of “Annihilation,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and even 2010’s “Predators,” which featured actress Alice Braga as an Israeli Defense Forces sniper, backing off the development of a strong female star like that stands out as a blatant half measure.
That is to say nothing of the new predator. A monster movie at its core, “The Predator” mostly will be judged on how intriguing its main creature is, and the Upgrade is a scary version of rgw reptilian hominid we have come to know and fear — initially. Sure, he’s huge, angry and pretty much impervious to bullets. But, then, so were all the other predators before him. This one is just a little bigger and angrier, and while it’s neat to see another addition to the “Predator” universe, the payoff here doesn’t exactly feel like it was worth the decade-long wait.
“The Predator” is far from the worst of the series — that honor, after all, belongs to 2007’s “Alien vs. Predator: Requiem.” Callbacks to previous films, like Munn’s take on Arnold Schwarznegger’s “ugly mother——” line or Rhodes’ use of the classic “Get to the chopper,” aren’t in short supply, and lovingly recall the series’ past successes, if a little too often. As a fan, it’s hard not to be at least a little enamored by a new predator creature.
For fans of the series, maybe that is enough to make the film a success. After all, it’s not often that a new predator comes around. Eventually, they’ll have to get it right.