Film Review: The Predator

Occasional sparks of wit can’t keep 'The Predator' from being a muddled, befuddling mess.
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We could have had it all. Shane Black—who proved with Iron Man 3 that his considerable talent directing witty, offbeat indies can translate perfectly well to the big-budget sphere—directing a new take on Predator, the 1987 action classic in which he had a supporting role! And such a promising cast in this newest iteration of the Predator franchise: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Sterling K. Brown, Thomas Jane, and little Jacob Tremblay along for the ride. What could go wrong?

Answer: A lot.

The beauty of the first Predator movie was in its simplicity—a bunch of dudes (and we’re talking dudes, ’80s muscleheads led by Ah-nuld) are dropped into the jungle, where a hunter from outer space picks them off one by one. Clean! Beautiful! Perfect! Shane Black and co-writer Fred Dekker, regrettably, have given The Predator twice the plot and half the comprehensibility of that first film. There are government conspiracies and treatises on human evolution, a rogue Predator and Predators who are also dogs (Predadogs!). In story and in visual style, The Predator feels less like a Shane Black movie than a generic, middling Hollywood blockbuster helmed by a workmanlike studio hack who occasionally asked Shane Black for advice.

There are moments when The Predator really works. For the most part, these involve the banter between our core group of soldier heroes—Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), a sniper who saw a Predator while out on a mission, and the group of “crazies” he’s tossed in with as a means to discredit his story. A standout is Trevante Rhodes, whose charisma (and million-watt smile) make Holbrook look like he’s made out of cardboard. Keegan-Michael Key, Augusto Aguilera and Thomas Jane all get fun character types to chew on, with poor Alfie Allen the odd man out who has nothing to do.

I’d rather watch all of these men—plus Olivia Munn’ s character, a scientist who’s more than capable of throwing their decidedly R-rated barbs right back at them—sit around playing Monopoly than engaging in the half-assed action The Predator subjects its viewers to. There are some good kills, necessary for a Predator movie, and a good bit of humor, necessary for a Shane Black movie. The Predator is enjoyable enough for the one hour and 47 minutes it takes to watch it. But the more you think about it, the less anything about the plot makes sense. Characters pop in and out of the story like whack-a-moles. The pacing is shot all to hell, thanks largely to a frenetic third act that crams a movie’s worth of activity into 30 minutes. The deaths of several major characters occur so quickly that you barely have time to notice them, and then the movie rushes on by without giving the audience a chance to absorb—never mind have any sort of emotional reaction to—their demise. In this third act, the reported extensive reshoots are plain to see; it’s just hard to imagine that what they started out with could have been worse.