Shane Black’s ‘The Predator’ is a deviation to the horror-action classic and this is not the film’s biggest problem.
I understand Shane Black’s decision to take the risk here. The succeeding sequels to the 1987 Predator revamped the franchise by introducing larger predators and moving the story outside Earth. Then there’s the horrendous idea of pitting them against aliens, which spawned two spin-off films – by far the lowest point of the series. Several movies in and the camouflage is already off, we all know what the beast looks like beneath its mask. Where can this film go after being rehashed several times? Shane Black’s idea: spin it into a black comedy. The trailer makes it look like it’s not. But trust me, it is.
The resulting tone is actually closer to the original – Black also happens to have a small role in it way back – but this sequel is quite irreverent to be classified under the horror genre. It almost works as a satire where the film falls prey of its masculinity.
At its center is an army ranger Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) who survives a run-in with a predator during his overseas mission. He seizes its helmet and gauntlet for evidence and for some reason, he thinks it’s best to ship these items to his home address. The package finds its way to his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), who plays with it and accidentally summons another predator to their town. How can the kid decode such alien technology? Through the help of his autism disorder, the film says. I can imagine a lot of psychologists shaking their heads with the misconception that this film gives.
It does not stop there. Psychological disorders are not only dismissed as convenient plot points but also as a source of gags. McKenna gets imprisoned for hiding the alien tech and once we step inside the prison bus, the film introduces a ragtag band of ex-military misfits who will help McKenna save his son from danger. Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes) is a smooth-talking, suicide case, Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key) is loud and mentally unstable, Baxley (Thomas Jane) has Tourette’s syndrome that causes him to yell obscenities, Nettles (Augusto Aguilera) is a dimwit pilot who suffered from a traumatic brain injury and Lynch (Alfie Allen) is an explosives expert who’s probably the least crazy of them all.
The film then starts hitting you with an endless barrage of crass, middle-school level jokes that are pulled out of thin air. Coyle yells at Baxley, “How do you circumcise a homeless man? Kick your mom on the chin!” A few minutes later, he comes up with a different punchline, “If your mom’s vagina were a video game, it’d be rated E for Everyone!” This film clearly doesn’t want to be taken seriously. I would have really embraced Black’s idea, if not only for the fact that this franchise is a horror classic that has actual stakes. The tone of this sequel does not support this notion at all.
The humor is intentionally offensive and misogynist. As long as you’re not offended and you dumb down enough, it’ll be funny. But then it becomes sad and uncomfortable when you realize that you’re laughing at these psychologically damaged people. It feels exploitative. The humor of the original Predator works because it’s served in small doses. In here, the humor is in service of itself and not the plot.
Nonetheless, the supporting characters earn their charm, and you kinda wish along the way that everyone gets spared. But this is The Predator and what boring film will it be if there are no deaths. When it gets to the carnage, it’s gratuitously violent and visceral – decapitation, disembowelment, skewering, you name it.
The tagline boasts that “the hunt has evolved” and while there’s not much new to alien tech, the predators here don’t merely exist to hunt. They now have a more discernible purpose which will be revealed along the way. There’s a Super Predator still in play and to top that, the film unleashes some ‘predator dogs’ as well.
Surprisingly, the film pits humans against each other more so than against predators. Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), a trigger-happy, government guy has his own reasons for capturing the monsters. He hires evolutionary biologist Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) who becomes the film’s target of inappropriate attention. With her character not being treated seriously by the script, Munn’s performance falls short of convincing. Likewise, Holbrook does not leave a lasting impression close enough to even what half of THE Arnold Schwarzenegger gives.
The Predator jams many ideas – genetic modification, global warming, government conspiracies and predator factions – in such a breakneck pace that it’s far from being boring. I am generally entertained from start to finish. However, for the most part, the film is preoccupied in committing to be a black comedy when all it manages to be is an offensive and unfocused, hot mess. Also, the end reveal is served clunky. Does this sequel justify the resurgence of the iconic crab-faced super alien? No. As a Shane Black fan, I am disappointed. I’d rather rewatch something like Annihilation.
2.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Shane Black, written by Fred Dekker and Shane Black
Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Olivia Munn, Jacob Tremblay, Sterling K. Brown, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera, Yvonne Strahovski, Jake Busey, Niall Matter, and Brian A. Prince.
Run time: 107 minutes