This summer has been incredibly shit for films (I have seen two films at the cinema in as many months, and I saw this one three weeks ago). So you might imagine that a Shane Black directed and written Predator movie would be just the thing to invigorate it. Astonishingly, you’d be wrong – The Predator is B-movie nonsense, served with a side of outdated mental illness mockery and a dessert of diminished expectations.
Soldier Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is part of a unit that stumbles across a Predator invasion, and is quickly silenced by being lumped in with a series of mentally compromised veterans. However, the arrival of that Predator (and another, larger one) is expected and heralded by a shady government department, with Will Traeger (Sterling K Brown), Dr Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) and others quickly finding that the aliens have a new motive.
It’s not often that I struggle to remember character names for any film (usually there aren’t many anyway) but I honestly had no idea who actors played beyond the stereotypical roles they had here, until I rechecked Wikipedia. That is but one of the many concerns I had about a film supposedly WRITTEN and DIRECTED by Shane Black (one of the most interesting, quirky and snappy writers/directors out there).
Honestly, I was really disappointed on multiple levels by Black’s efforts here alongside co writer Fred Dekker. The film has clearly undergone reshoots; it’s disjointed and features paper thin characters; their usual quippy banter is mostly non existent; and worst of all, it features some decidely 1980s characterisation of mental conditions (before you get all “shut up lefty” at me, there’s a good reason for my disdain here that I’ll come to later).
The undercooked script is threadbare due to plot holes and stupid turns of plot, and as mentioned earlier, characters are forgettable as well as paper thin. Sequel bait at the end is depressingly inevitable and boring, and perhaps most infuriatingly the aliens the bloody film is named after are boring, with no hint of the threat or terror in the original. Ironically, on the technical side, the frantic editing reveals and exposes these holes, and the reshoots, added to some awful greenscreen to cover up what had been shot.
I expected more from Shane Black the director because the action is insipid, uncreative and boring; and I expected more from Shane Black the writer because he’s one of the very best (see The Nice Guys for a perfect example of his class) when he’s at the top of his game.To add to this, 90s style special effects sully the incredible practical work done on the original and following films, while the lighting is gunmetal gray most of the time and only interestingly vibrant within the government lab at the start – it all even looks boring, for god’s sake! The music sparingly uses some of the bombastic themes of the original, but otherwise underwhelms like every other technical element.
On to the actors… who are with the exception of one either boring or offensive. Boyd Holbrook is blankly bland as our lead, with not much to say about him other than he does alright with the dramatic stuff but less so with the comedy. Olivia Munn’s thankless female doctor sees her inhabit a weird hybrid of genius, quip machine and attractive nerd (who strips off for next to no reason early on).
The actress (who has since detailed an horrific oversight by Black re: a sex criminal getting a cameo role with her) does her best to make it stand out, but this is a crap, fan wank male fantasy character with little else about her – again, a real betrayal of Black’s previous strengths with female characters.
Young actor Jacob Tremblay (so good in Room) is given the first of the two’s questionably outdated roles as Quinn’s autistic son, who somehow is a complete technical genius despite being a very young child. Yes, we’ve seen this writ large with The Accountant, but getting a young kid to play autistic feels like a really big low to stoop to, not to mention we get the standard bully scene where the kid hides in a corner moaning. What a waste of a talented young actor too, for absolutely no reason than to engender a twisted sympathy and to give the heroes an “out” when up against it.
Before I get to the rest, the standout is Sterling K Brown’s Traeger, a piece of shit government agent who gets all the funny lines, chews gum aggressively at every opportunity and is manifestly the only Shane Black character present. The actor stretches his comedic muscles and is a minor revelation, a mix of caustic, cold bastard cynicism (met with a dead eyed stare) and the film’s only zingers.
Quinn’s rogues gallery of sidekicks are too numerous in number and underdeveloped, with Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes given the most time to shine – the actor again though underserved by a rote backstory and not much to do. Keegan Michael Key is far too zany and infuriating to register on any level beyond annoyance, while Alfie Allen and Augusto Aguilera are essentially ignored until the film calls on them to either be weird or shoot something.
And then we come to Thomas Jane, who is a perfectly capable actor (see The Mist), but here is a Tourettes suffering veteran whose tic is to say crude sexual stuff. Was it ever funny to have a character have that problem in a film? Why did Black think it was here? It’s not even funny on a shock level, it’s just lazy and stupid, and a criminal waste of an underrated actor as well as a tired depiction of the condition.
Bit parts waste other actors too, from Jake Busey (who serves as a connection to the earlier films and raving dad Gary) through to The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Yvonne Strahovski, who barely inhabits a useless, stereotypical wife character who may as well not exist, it’s so thankless. Her megabitch character in that show has more about her, and she’s a flipping religious puritan psychopath – that’s how bad this role is.
Sacrilegious as it may sound to other sci fi fans, 2010’s Predators – which saw earth-based scumbag bastards and murderers teleported to a planet where the predators hunt them -was far, far superior to this crap. Shane Black had all the opportunities to make a great sequel here – writing AND directing it – but instead made a turgid, boring, offensively stupid movie that will probably kill off this franchise all over again.