Back in 1987, Shane Black played just another one of the macho grunts killed by the eponymous character in Predator, only a few months after his first produced screenplay, Lethal Weapon, was released. Thirty-one years later, Black has been put at the helm of The Predator, an homage to the action films of the 80s, and a clear attempt to kickstart a new stretch in the Predator franchise. At its best, The Predator is an unrepentantly gory and over-the-top action film. At its worst, The Predator is a generic action film that reminds that some aspects of 80s action films should stay in the past.
While on an assassination mission, sniper Quinn McKenna (Logan’s Boyd Holbrook) witnesses an alien ship crash, and quickly nabs some of the alien’s armor. To keep his findings from the military, McKenna mails his loot to his P.O. box at home. Instead, the package arrives at his old home, which his autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) opens and plays around with.
McKenna is arrested and put alongside a group of military prisoners known as “The Loonies,” featuring Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes), Baxley (Thomas Jane), Lynch (Alfie Allen), and Nettles (Augusto Aguilera), each with their own set of eccentricities. They’re soon joined by Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), a scientist brought in by military asshole Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) to investigate a predator the military has captured. Once Casey teams up with The Loonies, The Predator becomes a race to get to Rory before a new, advanced predator tries to get the lost outfit back.
The Predator’s strength is in its outstanding ensemble cast, a surprising group for such a basic action film. Rhodes is especially perfect as an action movie hero, and is the only member of The Loonies to move beyond his idiosyncrasies. Also excellent is Munn, who balances the action and humor better than almost anyone else in the cast. As with this year’s Hotel Artemis and his Emmy nominated performance on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it’s hard not to appreciate Brown going big and ridiculous in his performances, as he is arguably more evil here than the actual predator.
Oddly disappointing in The Predator are the more proven performers. Tremblay’s autism comes and goes when the screenplay needs it, and he’s little more than the film’s MacGuffin. Jane is nothing but a series of Tourette’s jokes and the majority of Key’s lines are hacky mom jokes. At least Jane and Key have some defining factor, since Allen and Aguilera are almost completely disposable, besides their talents with helicopters and explosives, respectively.
Black and co-writer Fred Dekker fill their screenplay with nods to the original, and some fun banter that should be expected from Black. In one of the film’s more charming jokes, the character argues whether or not the alien should be called the “predator,” since in actuality, it’s more of a hunter. Yet it’s when the screenplay tries to go back to an 80s mentality that the film suffers. Jokes made at the expense of Baxley’s Tourette syndrome, Rory’s autism, and Nebraska’s real name “Gaylord” don’t exactly land.
Even though she’s arguably the smartest character in the film, Black and Dekker don’t know how to handle Munn’s Bracket. She’s mostly handled like a deus ex machina whenever the film needs her, and she’s often treated as if she can’t handle herself. In one particularly uncomfortable scene, Bracket must strip naked in order to stay out of sight from the predator. It’s never explained why the predator avoids her, but thankfully the film doesn’t play this moment for titillation.
Instead of doing something intriguing with the Predator format, as with 2010’s far superior Predators, The Predator throws so many loose threads out for potential future installments. The Predator brings up the evolution of predators, autism as the next evolution of humans, climate change, predators with human DNA, and even predator dogs. This film clearly has interest in heading towards the next step of both humans and alien evolution – including how these two species are intertwined – but The Predator never does anything interesting with these ideas, only setting up breadcrumbs to follow up on later.
The Predator isn’t a disaster, but it does poorly juggle its attempt at being both an 80s action throwback and a modern series starter. Bolstered by a solid cast and an intermittently decent script, The Predator is far too concerned with the past and the future, instead of simply focusing on the present and having fun with its wild premise.