Well, THAT…was astounding. Utterly and completely. This review is going to end up pretty much the exact opposite of what I had kinda sorta expected / hoped for. And it’s going to hurt a little bit too.
For context, I love the ‘Predator’ franchise…mostly. The first one is a true 80’s classic that was surprisingly effective and ahead of it’s time in 1987. The inevitable sequel is a good solid follow-up, in the same over-the-top 1990’s way that ‘Die Hard 2’ is a good follow up to it’s iconic predecessor. I don’t care what other folks say. I genuinely love ‘Predator 2’ (1990), maybe even a little more than the original (blasphemy, I know). And then, if we’re being true to the franchise, the next installment was the Robert Rodriguez-guided 2010 entry, ‘Predators’, which I still find to be a perfectly acceptable entry into the series. It’s a ‘Predator’ flick, through and through. Yea, yea…I know, ‘what about the ‘AvP’ movies?!’ And I say…what about them?! They’re a novelty item…and not a very good one either. The first 2004 ‘Alien vs Predator’ is a decent-enough ‘what if’ popcorn flick of a cash-grab. There’s a lot of dumb, but there’s also some fun. The same can NOT be said of that loathsome ‘Alien vs Predator: Requiem’ (2007) piece of shit! That steaming mess is an insult to fans of either franchise! But luckily, these two features are easy to ignore as canon. Then things went quiet, while 20th Century Fox turned their attention to letting Ridley Scott tinker with their OTHER big sci-fi horror franchise, with questionable results. When that didn’t turn out as planned, for either ‘Prometheus’ (2012) or ‘Alien Covenant’ (2017), it seems that attention was then cast back in the ”Predator’ direction (Hollywood think of something new?…Heaven’s to Betsy, no! Too much work). Somewhere along the way, Writer / Director Shane Black came into the fold with his own ‘Predator’ story, written with long-time cohort Fred Dekker (‘The Monster Squad’). Black’s ‘Predator’ credibility was already elevated, as he also had a juicy supporting role as the ill-fated ‘Hawkins’ in the 1987 original, the first son-of-a-bitch to get splattered by the dread-locked trophy hunter. Naturally, geek tongues went all a’waggling at the prospect of a Shane Black-directed entry, something with it’s own flavor, backed by his trademark flair for dialogue and structure. Shane Black has undeniable talent as a writer, going back to his first script, the one that became the iconic ‘Lethal Weapon’, and his previous three films (as Director), ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ (2005), ‘Iron Man 3’ (2013), and ‘The Nice Guys’ (2016) have been solid, entertaining movies. He has proven that he’s a competent director with his own ‘voice’ that can deliver a well-crafted story, populated with dynamic characters and situations. So…bearing that in mind, imagine my surprise when THIS uncoiled in a steaming pile on the screen. Holy. Shit.
‘The Predator’s opening scene puts us into the middle of a covert hostage rescue operation in rural Mexico, after we see an out-of-control alien ship wormhole into our atmosphere. Into this gunfight, the ship conveniently crashes. An American sniper named ‘McKenna’ (Boyd Holbrook) stumbles onto the wreckage, finding some convenient alien tech, that he somehow couriers to his ex-wife and their autistic son back in the ole US of A (I guess Customs was conveniently not checking UPS that day). Eventually sinister government forces (is there any other kind?) close in and ‘McKenna’ finds himself on a bus with a load of Section 8‘s; mental-case rejects with wacky, crazy personalities! The trip to the loony bin is conveniently interrupted by the convenient arrival of…THE PREDATOR!! The dangerous, mental cases with the wacky personalities(!) conveniently find a way to break out, and then spend the rest of the horribly-paced 1 hour 47 minute run-time getting into convenient and confusing skirmishes and encounters with faceless government goons and Predators.
My Gawd…where to begin. There was a lot of talk during the Vancouver-based production of issues behind the scenes and displeasure with Black’s original workprint cut. It was decided that Fox would toss more money at a re-write of the 3rd Act and reshoots, which we heard about when they came back into town. Apparently, the new material completely changed the last third, similar to what happened with ‘Rogue One’ (2016). Only in that flick’s case, the end result was surprisingly tight (IMO), possibly justifying the heavy tinkering at the 11th Hour. I REALLY wanted to be able to say something similar, after seeing this one…but sadly, I can’t. ‘The Predator’ is a clumsy mess that feels like it was all cut to hell at the last minute. Fox has a bad habit of messing with their genre flicks and this is another of those, like ‘Alien 3’, where you can feel the Behind The Scenes drama in the end product. That being said, even if there’s a complete Shane Black director’s cut out there, I’m not sure it would be much better. As messy as it is, I just don’t think the root story is very strong. It’s also not helped by Shane Black adding just a little too much ‘Shane Black‘ into the mix. Black is a solid writer of action, with a gift for snappy humor and dialogue, but he brings too much of himself to the table here. Simply put…there’s too many cheap attempts at wise-ass humor scattered throughout and it killed the tension I wanted to feel from a “Predator’ movie again. What really sucks is that this movie starts well. I get the impression that the first Act was left pretty much as scripted and filmed, and it worked for me. I was right into what I was seeing and my hopes were raised. It was after the second Act kicked in WAY earlier than it should have, with almost no build-up to the catalyst event that kicks the ‘conflict’ portion of the story into gear, that I knew the jig was up. From there, the pacing started tripping all over itself and the narrative plot-line became muddled and nonsensical. The sheer number of helpful coincidences was amazing, and clunky sequences just sorta happened…just cuz…as obviously someone went at the Final Edit with a fucking meat cleaver! There are continuity errors and plot holes galore! Characters just happen to turn up somewhere in time for something plot-crucial to happen, with no explanation how they got there, or characters are killed off suddenly with no dramatic preamble, or they just simply disappear (looking at YOU, Jake Busey!). This happens a few times. Clearly big chunks of story line hit the cutting room floor. As stated earlier, I’ve seen and enjoyed Shane Black’s previous 3 films and I think they’re, for the most part, technically slick and well executed. I cannot believe that the cinematic abortion my buddy and I just chuckled through (for all the wrong reasons) was the final product he had in mind.
Now it’s not all Doom n Gloom…there is some good shit too. Like I said, the opening 30 or so minutes was working for me. It felt like there was genuine potential for this to be a worthy ‘Predator’ flick, up until I started noticing the editing. The effects were cool, both in the opening outer space footage, and the action and gore on the ground. The new cloaking effect looked slick and the sound design was loud n proud! I liked some of the expansion of the ‘Yautja’ species lore and tech, but some was also used stupidly. Occasionally, there was a cool ‘sci-fi’ shot or scene, that looked like it had ‘iconic’ potential within the franchise, but then everything else happened around…and we’d start laughing again.
There MIGHT be spoilers here, but going with my kneejerkreaction, this is the shit I DIDN’T like: I didn’t like the constant wisecracks. Some of the humor felt desperate and staged. I hated how Olivia Munn’s meek scientist character ‘Casey’ ends up being a Sarah Conner / Ripley / Lara Croft hybrid in the span of a scene change, with zero evidence of firearms or combat training. I hated the inclusion of the cutesy amnesiac ‘Predator’ dog, that teams up with our misfits and adorably plays fetch with Olivia Munn. So stupid. I also took issue with how many humans are killed by other humans. I know that sounds odd, given how much human-on-human death occurs in the first two flicks, but here it felt unnecessary and mean-spirited, for some reason. There’s even a scene where the autistic kid, idiotically wearing a full-sized and operational ‘Predator’ mask out trick r treating, blows up part of a house, definitely killing the guy who flicked a smoke down at him, and anyone else who’d been up there. The very next shot is played for laughs, making this kid come off like a dangerous lunatic!! It didn’t sit right. I didn’t like how I found most of the characters obnoxious and one-dimensional. And I especially didn’t like how goddamn badly edited and paced this hot mess was!! I really wonder if we’ll get some kind of extended cut or even a genuine Director’s Cut. I would be curious to see if there’s actually a good ‘Predator’ movie in there that just needs another chance in the editing room.
In a nutshell, I was let down by ‘The Predator’ surprisingly hard. Not even my respect for Black’s past work and my love of most things ‘Predator’ can excuse this. I strongly suspect that he’s not all to blame, but just judging the end result…ouch! This’ll bring his winning streak to a quick pause, that’s for sure. In fact, he better prey they give him a second chance at a re-edit for the Blu ray release, because he should be embarrassed to have his name on what the studio opted to release. It’s an incoherent, ill-tempered, and clumsy mess that shows glimmers of promise, but squanders it with too much cheap humor and horrible editing. The story is half-baked and plot-lines and characters just come and go, with no build-up or characterization. There’s almost no tension and a couple times everything just halts so that a character can get us caught up with a shoe-horned exposition dump that doesn’t even try to hide what it’s doing. I didn’t give a shit about ANYONE onscreen…and that’s a problem. Oh, and the last, seemingly tacked-on, scene is absolutely idiotic. I can see how they came to what they did, but they never asked if they should. And they shouldn’t have. It’s ludicrous, looked stupid and doesn’t bode well for the future of the franchise. I thought Shane Black and 20th Century Fox doing a new ‘Predator’ flick would be a match made in ‘creature feature’ Heaven…but I was wrong. Really wrong. And that hurts to write.
*On my list of ‘Predator Movies by Preference’, currently ‘The Predator’ is lurking just before the atrocious ‘AvP: Requiem’. No bullshit. In it’s current form, this one is THAT bad. My experience watching this closely resembled the trauma I experienced watching that dumpster fire ‘The Last Jedi’ not too long ago. So much potential flushed away and so many infuriating decisions made. *shakes head sadly*