The sort of concentrated machismo that made the original Predator so electrifying back in the eighties may be outdated in 2018, but Shane Black certainly tries his best to bring the franchise back to its original heights. But despite his best efforts, the film still falls short.
When in doubt, make the monster bigger. From Jurassic Park: The Lost World to virtually every Godzilla film, decades worth of mediocre sequels have followed this mantra. 2018’s The Predator is no different. The plot of this film is about the “predators,” an alien race who hunt other beings for sport, going around the galaxy murdering advanced species with the intent to reclaim their DNA, in order to evolve into a bigger, deadlier killing machine. The Big Bad in this film is roughly eleven-foot-tall, heavily armored, and computer generated, thus making him a much greater threat than the wimpy little Predator from the eighties, and a much bigger eyesore. The first half of this film is much more compelling than the second, as the only threat is the friendly neighborhood Predator we all know and love. The stakes are familiar-and more importantly-the effects are practical. Seeing a man in a suit is practically unheard of in 2018, even though 98% of the time it looks better and elicits a more realistic performance out of the human actors in the scene. The action scenes with the physical predator are engaging enough, they’re not spectacularly constructed, with a lot of choppy editing and almost exclusively night shots, but at least they are believable to some degree. When the big fella rolls in at the halfway point, the film’s quality drastically declines. He looks floaty and kind of goopy-the compositing is noticeably off and in general, it just feels like any other high-budget mediocre effects film that we get so often these days.
The characters in the film are all fairly one-note. They’re diversified in the sense that they all have their own “thing,” like one of them is British, one of them has Tourette’s, one of them makes your mom jokes, but beyond that, there is no development to them whatsoever. Our main character, played by the exceedingly generic Boyd Holbrook, is honestly pretty embarrassing. He’s your prototypical infallible badass and is given some dreadful dialogue and character action. It’s clear that Shane Black is trying to replicate the same magic from the 1987 film, but as I said before, that kind of testosterone-fueled energy just doesn’t have the same effect anymore. Not all of the dialogue in this film feels so cringy, in fact there are many jokes that land, but by and large the worst of it is given to Holbrook. Olivia Munn isn’t bad in the film but her characterization is little more than that of the token woman in these kinds of movies. It’s not really her fault, but it is disappointing that we couldn’t get something more substantial, but at least it’s a step up from the literal zero female characters in the original. The best performance comes from young Jacob Tremblay, who is really shaping up to be the best child actor of perhaps all time. He plays an autistic child whose character is also slighted heavily by the script (something we’ll get into later), but he just gives such an honest performance it’s difficult to dislike him.
The Predator has been surrounded by controversy before it even was released. By now you’ve likely heard that Shane Black knowingly cast a registered sex offender to act in a scene alongside Olivia Munn in which he sexually harasses her. After Munn spoke out, the scene was cut from the film. While this is certainly worth discussing, it is, unfortunately, becoming almost commonplace these days, so I’d like to take a moment to highlight something I find notably more problematic regarding this film’s script, although it constitutes a bit of a spoiler. If you’d prefer to be unspoiled, just skip to the next paragraph to read my closing remarks, otherwise proceed with caution. As I mentioned above, Tremblay’s character has diagnosed autism, and you might be optimistically hoping it was treated respectfully, but you would unsurprisingly be disappointed. It’s a portrayal ripe with cliches, with him being able to instantly operate complex alien technology, and so on and so forth. His idiosyncrasies only seem to be present when they are relevant to the plot, meaning that in some moments he is affected by loud noises and in others, they seem to have no effect. But in one of the more disastrous plot points, it is revealed that the Predator wants Tremblay’s autism in order to evolve, as that will allow him to ascend to his final form or whatever. Now I’m not saying that writer’s shouldn’t find ways to remove the negative stigma from autism, quite the contrary. I have nothing but respect for stories like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series that encourage kids to look at their disabilities as gifts rather than hindrances. But in a film that openly uses the term “retarded” as a slur and by and large is wrought with problematic storytelling, the film’s passive “respect” for autism as a third act plot reveal rather than an ingrained narrative feels incredibly insensitive. Regardless of the headspace it was written in, that entire angle of the script is very messy and just left a poor taste in my mouth.
The Predator is a choppy action film, but it is one that is able to be enjoyed by a large amount of people. It checks the right boxes for fans of the franchise and delivers just enough competently directed sequences to satisfy action lovers who are just looking for some dumb fun. Does the film have its issues? Definitely, but I expect Predator fanboys will be entertained. I don’t dislike Shane Black, and I respect him wanting to diversify his portfolio, but I much prefer his original work like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the Nice Guys. At the end of the day, this is a moderately entertaining sci-fi reboot that will fit a niche audience, but otherwise, be left behind by the world at large.