Skip to main content

Well, we took a vote. Predator’s cooler, right?

The Predator
(2018)

(SPOILERS) Is The Predator everything you’d want from a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator (or Yautja, or Hish-Qu-Ten, apparently)? Emphatically not. We've already had a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator – or the other way around, at least – and that was on another level. The problem – aside from the enforced reshoots, and the not-altogether-there casting, and the possibility that full-on action extravaganzas, while delivered competently, may not be his best foot forward – is that I don't think Black's really a science-fiction guy, game as he clearly was to take on the permanently beleaguered franchise. He makes The Predator very funny, quite goofy, very gory, often entertaining, but ultimately lacking a coherent sense of what it is, something you couldn't say of his three prior directorial efforts.


I mean, to a degree it does know what its – an unabashed B-movie on an A-movie budget. But unlike other Black pictures, there's never a sense that character comes first, or even that his all-essential plot does. It's "how can I tinker with this franchise, Shane-it-up?" and that's consistent throughout. The tinkering, in bare-bones terms, is of a fairly rudimentary nature; instead of military badasses against Preds (PredatorPredators), we have crazy military badasses. Instead of a standard-issue Predator, or one so young and inexperienced it can be bested by a permanently wheezing Danny Glover (Predator and Predator 2 respectively), we have a super Predator ("the Upgrade" in the screenplay), towering over the already beefy lad. And instead of a government team led by Gary Busey (Predator 2), we have a government team led by Sterling K Brown and featuring Jake Busey. Instead of Predator dogs (Predators, apparently set after this movie) we have… different Predator dogs. Instead of a jungle (Predator), we have a forest.


While I don’t wish to defame The Predator by association, in some respects it overtly recalls the abysmal AvP: Requiem, with its augmented Predators (the Predalien there) and relish in bringing destruction to an everyday environment. While there's nothing as unpleasant as an alien erupting from the chest of a small boy, or one deciding to do the rounds of a maternity ward, Black ensures, as usual, that youngsters are imperilled in a very adult world. 


Here, though, the least of the issues is Quinn (Boyd Holbrook, fairly forgettable, even when served up memorable one-liners) shooting bad guys very bloodily in front of son Rory (Jacob Tremblay). Rather, it's the conceit that Rory, an aspergic kid (the assumption is he's autistic, but if he is, he isn't severely so on this evidence while simultaneously having fantastically savant alien language skills), is the next evolutionary step, such that the Upgrade wants his DNA for the next upgrade. Has Black been reading up on Indigo children? While the kid is integrated in the early stage with the usual deftness – see also Last Boy ScoutIron Man ThreeThe Nice Guys – at the point everyone in addition to dad (the military, the Upgrade) want to find him, we're firmly in the realm of cheese. And not choice, ripe cheese.


The Upgrade is also an iffy decision, a lazy one on the part of Black and co-writer Fred Dekker that seems to evidence unprompted succumbing to the "more is more" sequel ethic, which very rarely reaps dividends. There's nothing particularly impressive about the creation, which recalls a Warcraft reject and begs even greater implausibility in terms of the feats required by humans to best it, since the original was more than enough to deal with in the first place. 


Someone suggested the ideal way to make a Predator movie is to have it intrude upon a completely different movie. I think that's probably right, as short of making the Predator actually interesting in some way in its own right, he's essentially an SF version of the Jason/ Michael Myers character, defined by his body count. Only Predator 2 delivered that to any degree, but was too distracted by its pseudo-future of global warming and zoot suits to make it work; no one here's given to quipping about the blip heat wave of '97 or its iffy fashions, even though it's canon. Black does throw his hat into the climate change ring, however, informing us the Earth will be suitable for Predators to colonise in another two decades' time. So there's that to look forward to.


There's also a friendly Predator dog, which look like the design has been based on Draco in Dragonheart. It's a cute idea, I guess, and creates a few yuks as it chases after balls (grenades). 


With his band of military misfits, there's often a sense Black's trying too hard with the coarse badinage (Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Jane’s Tourette's sufferer – the latter the possessed of the kind of tic you'd have expected from one of Black’s '90s movies, but he's nothing if not brazenly out of step). As such, Trevante Rhodes comes off best by far, completely at odds to his inertly lumpen performance in Moonlight. They all survive for a surprisingly long time, yet are then picked off in a surprisingly redundant short order. 


Holbrook replaced Benicio del Toro, and you really feel the lack of weight at the centre of the picture. He's fine, but just being fine isn't enough against an iconic creature (if nothing else, this should have been learnt from the AvPs; the surprise is that Adrien Brody carried off Predators). 


As such, it's left to Brown as the ruthless government stooge to make the biggest impact, and he more than pulls his weight (if the feed of the "sports hunter" gag is weak, the "Predator's cooler" riposte is a winner) Strange then, how he's dispatched in an offhand "Was that…?" moment. Tremblay seems set on playing precocious kids but is tolerably quite subdued. Jake Busey, who's always good fun, disappointingly gets little more than a cameo, while Olivia Munn makes exactly the kind of impression she always does: very little (Dexter's Yvonne Strahovski makes much more of a mark in a much smaller role as Holbrook's ex). Her character is a science teacher, which doesn't explain how she's also a maximum kick-ass, but it does underline how frivolous and throwaway her presence is. 


Black offers numerous "seemed like a good idea at the time" call backs to the original ("Get to the choppers", "You’re one beautiful motherfucker") but the most successful is Henry Jackman's score dutifully referencing the Alan Silvestri original. There's refreshingly bona fide prosthetics and animatronics on display (with the normal Predator – "like an alien Whoopi Goldberg" – at least), and more intestines than a Neil Marshall werewolf movie. 


For the most part, I didn't find the CGI as scrappy and off-putting as some reviewers, although there's a definite unfinished feel to climax on and in the Predator ship (recalling last year's Alien: Covenant in dynamic) and the reveal of the "Predator Killer" (a naff set up for a sequel we won't get; I had a brief hope an unannounced Arnie would pop out of the cocoon; he did arrive at the end of the original screenplay, though). 


The chief problem with the third act is how well-trodden and inessential it feels; The Predator isn't a long movie, but the involving first two-thirds becomes a chore during the final reel. There have also been criticisms of the editing, and it's definitely an area – Iron Man Three aside – where Black has issues, most notably when it comes to action (although, the decimation of the lab is perfectly executed). Pacing too, as this feels like it's in too much of a rush to find its feet at times.


Of course, The Predator isn't going to be remembered – at least, in the medium term – for its content so much as the controversy created by Black casting pal Steven Wilder Striegel in a small, excised role. Striegel, a registered sex offender, shouldn't have been acting opposite her, Munn decided, her position being that it's fine for someone who has done their time to make a living as long as it's nowhere near me (too): "You deserve to make money but not alongside me in a film"; fortunately, she's not – yet – entitled to enact the laws in her home country, although, to go by the manner in which her supporting cast and Black have been shamed into supporting her stand, you'd think she did. However this pans out for her as a big moment to finally get noticed above the parapet, it looks like it will help to torpedo the movie at the box office. Not that it would likely have gone great guns anyway (in that regard, I think non-presence Holbrook was the greater liability).


I doubt Fox cares that much, with Disney prospectively buying them and prospectively putting both Predators and Aliens on ice (Fox clearly hasn't a clue how to manage its franchises, so maybe it's for the best). I don't think I'd have been particular interested in seeing Black's sequel to this movie anyway; I'd rather he stuck to churning out his pulp noir, quip-tastic originals. The danger for him is that everything surrounding The Predator will have unravelled the good will Iron Man Three garnered. Downey Jr may have to come to his rescue again. If I say The Predator is the best of the sequels, that isn't a particularly high bar, but it does reflect that the series (outside of the AvPs) is watchable, likeable, disposable popcorn fare; the original was only otherwise because it had John McTiernan at the height of his powers. Now, he's such a persona non grata, he isn’t even going to get a chance for Olivia Munn to object to having worked with him.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

I don’t know if what is happening is fair, but it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
(SPOILERS) I think I knew I wasn’t going to like The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the first five minutes. And that was without the unedifying sight of open-heart surgery that takes up the first four. Yorgos Lanthimos is something of a Marmite director, and my responses to this and his previous The Lobster (which I merely thought was “okay” after exhausting its thin premise) haven’t induced me to check out his earlier work. Of course, he has now come out with a film that, reputedly, even his naysayers will like, awards-darling The Favourite

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …