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

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979) Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.