I do not envy Shane Black’s position. He’s a director famous for being quippy, clever, and meta, as well as tearing down the very structure of the genres with which he engages. Then he got handed the reins to a Predator sequel—perhaps the most structurally consistent horror franchise I can think of. So a creator who genuinely creates was expected to deliver both the box and everything outside of the box, and The Predator does half-measures of both. It is a film that is fine and nothing more than that, which would be less of an issue without the expectations of what could or should have happened here.
Before going any further, let’s get on the same page about one thing: putting a convicted sex offender in your film without telling anyone is a real stupid move and Shane Black has handled the media response quite poorly. That shouldn’t weigh on a property like this, because we should all expect better. Yet, here we are. Anyhow. There’s that. We’ll leave that here.
The Predator follows a mercenary who stumbles upon a crashed alien spaceship. He takes all the cool alien technology and mails it home to sell later. Instead, a government agency apprehends him and he winds up on a prison bus full of wacky criminals. The Predator from the crash wakes up and kills everyone in a secret underground laboratory, then comes after the Bad Crime Boys in the bus. They team up,almost instantly take down their captors, and head out to find that big ol’ box of stolen alien crap. Well, the mercenary’s genius son opened the box and got all the alien weapons working. So now that’s a real safety concern.
The Predator is running around killing folks, Sterling K. Brown and a team of government assassins are running around killing folks, and the group of convicted murderers can’t seem to kill anything. The kid from The Room is also here and so is Olivia Munn. You’d think that would be enough for a whole film, but then a slightly-even-more-bigger Predator arrives on Earth and he yells at the slightly-less-big Predator and then they fight. The big Predator wants to hunt but also take care of some bureaucratic space-nonsense.He also has some huge murder-dogs. That’s not even the whole plot; that’s just a solid twenty minute chunk in the middle.
In other circumstances, that rundown would be my entire list of highlights in a Predator film. The last few outings stuck to incredibly rigid or boring structures.Even the elements they tried to add to the mythology felt hamfisted. It shouldn’t be complicated to do right in this franchise: the first film is literally about chasing Arnold Schwarzenegger through the jungle with one of those soundboard apps that keeps playing the same quote over and over again. Predator 2 is about how hard it is to be a Busey. There’s very little worth discussing past that (although Aliens vs Predator did bring the two greatest killing machines in the universe together so they could *checks notes* fist fight in an Aztec Temple under the South Pole).
This is all to say that Predator films have a very few narrative requirements: a few new twists, a hunt, and some action sequences that end in Classic Predator Kills. Hell, the Predator weapon set is completely undefined. Any kinda weird laser grenade with holograms or lightning spear you want to write in? That’ll work.
By these very simple measures, how does The Predator stack up? The action sequences are nearly impossible to follow. The biggest collection of interesting, cool fighting takes places in near total darkness, but not in a way that’s visually compelling or even followable. In this overly long movie, there’s a lot of real honest attempts to expand Predator lore, if only because they’re hoping to suck two sequels out of this reboot. It’s not engaging enough for a new audience and woefully inadequate as fan service. Imagine Alien: Covenant—with none of the ambition of, say, extinction level event revenge or psycho-sexual flute lessons, and you’ve got The Predator.
It’s a dreadful mess of a film with infrequent bursts of what it could have been. As my friend Orrin can attest, I shouted shocked profanities at the screen a few times, in a way that absolutely deserves credit, because I’m just not that guy in the theater. But those literal seconds worth of great filmmaking are buried under this blanket of confusion; either on the audience’s part or on the film’s part. That’s no great shock for something that was edited into oblivion. It also means there’s almost no hunting in the film about hunting. I’m as confused as you are.
Back to the Shane Black problem: if this film isn’t going to play by the rules, what rules will it break to make an impression? The answer is… None. It’s a film devoid of personality and, almost shockingly, devoid of jokes. I simply wasn’t ready for that. It’s a combination of Shane Black, a cast of renowned character actors, and multiple gigantic sport-hunters from the furthest cosmos. How does that wind up as generic and forgettable as what was committed to film here?
There’s a lot happening in The Predator. There are honest attempts to flesh out all the characters and a few ideas worth exploring, but then there’s a lot of downright awful genre-less genre-work that Shane Black spent his career skewering. But it’s difficult to evaluate what this was supposed to be, because the end product can’t have been what anyone hoped to bring to the table.
No, The Predator‘s redeeming qualities just can’t overcome its messy editing and nonsensical plot.
Main takeaway: What should have been a slam dunk is instead bogged down with bad filmmaking and worse press.