Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “The Predator” (2018)

In Shane Black’s 2018 film, a fugitive Predator crash lands on Earth and, after getting into a skirmish with army sniper McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), is apprehended and subsequently studied by government forces, with McKenna secretly taking possession of his cloaking device, helmet, and one of his gauntlets, which he sends away when he realises that government forces are planning to use him as a fall guy of sorts. But when McKenna’s troubled son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) discovers the alien items, inadvertently activating a device that draws a vicious Predator tracker to the planet, one on the hunt for the outlaw Predator and an important artefact he was carrying, it’s up to McKenna, scientist Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn), and a ragtag bunch of disgraced soldiers to save both Rory and the planet.

To start off with, I’m a fan of the Predator films. I think that the creature itself is just so cool, with all the imaginative gadgets and gizmos and the character design is just awesome. I haven’t seen 2010’s Predators but the 1987 original is of course a great ‘un, the 1990 sequel got to expand on the traditions and customs of the titular race while introducing a little humour into the mix, and I’m even a defender of Alien vs. Predator. Though Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is one of the worst, most boring films that I’ve ever seen.

So when news came around that we were getting a brand new Predator film, helmed by Iron Man 3 and The Nice Guys‘ director Shane Black, obviously I was bound to give it a go. And the verdict? Well, whilst The Predator is a decent piece of entertainment, with enough of that expected gory killing and a further exploration of Predator culture, it doesn’t quite do enough to justify its existence and the unremarkable story isn’t a big or imaginative enough step forward for the franchise.

The story is what lets the film down most because the plot is confused and all over the place, never seeming to commit to a single idea for very long. For the most part, the plot centres around a pivotal McGuffin plot device thingy (which I’m still baffled as to what is actually was – am I stupid or was it never explained?) but as the film moves closer to its endgame, that darned thingamajig is completely forgotten about and the plot goes on to move in other random, nonsensical directions, arbitrarily finishing the film on a classic Predator hunt through the forest for no real reason. It’s an inescapably muddled and messy plot and after a certain amount of time, you may just end up wondering just what it’s all supposed to be about.

The story itself manages to advance the franchise’s overarching storyline a little bit, modernising it somewhat and including plenty of affectionate nods to the original film, but the plot here isn’t fresh or imaginative enough by far and it all seems a little too derivative and safe.

The Predator seems to be burdened with several plot holes and contrivances, such as a Predator’s helmet being able to conveniently illustrate some of the creatures’ backstories and an unbelievable moment at the end where a tiny device is miraculously found on the ground. At night. In the midst of a frantic battle. And unfortunately there’s exposition aplenty when characters (mainly Sterling K. Brown’s slippery government agent character) seem to conveniently know EXACTLY what’s going on as they clearly explain the Predators’ intentions and plans to the audience, pushing the realms of credibility and believability to its limits.

Having starred in the original Predator back in the day, Shane Black takes the directorial reigns here and he does a good job for the most part by keeping the film going at a steady pace, not letting it descend into tedium, and the tension-filled fight scenes, though they’re hardly edge-of-the-seat stuff, are effectively done with a generous amount of carnage, violence and gore – a refreshingly good thing because it would’ve been annoying if all of that was toned down in any way. Because bold violence is surely what we want from a Predator film.

Where Black trips up though is his handling of the contrasting tones in the film; alongside all of the sci-fi/horror and action, the film also tries hard to show off its sense of humour and also takes time to focus on some more emotional moments between Holbrook and his family. The problem with the latter is that in these slower moments, it seems as though the film is trying a little too hard to have an emotional core, maybe an attempt to flesh out the characters as best they can in order to avoid them simply being two-dimensional cannon fodder, but honestly in a Predator film it’s out of place and here, it ends up being ultimately irrelevant and a tad detrimental to the film’s entertainment factor.

As for the comedy, it’s interesting that Black and writing partner Fred Dekker commit to including a generous helping of often dark comedy and while the film’s irreverent nature makes The Predator stand out a bit against other films in the franchise, it’s not funny enough (at least not to me) and at the end of the day, the film probably would’ve worked better if it was a straight up drama/action/sci-fi film with the occasional humorous line.

In the leading role of McKenna, Boyd Holbrook fits in very nicely as he is a tough guy who really gets stuck in to the many action sequences while also showing the more caring side of his character when the script requires it; he’s a commanding action lead, getting to do much more than he did in Logan, and he carries the film well with his solid acting abilities. Alongside, Moonlight‘s Trevante Rhodes is cool and very easy to support as fellow soldier Nebraska, Olivia Munn confidently holds her own in the action scenes against all the macho dudes (though she is up against a touch of occasional chauvinism in the script), Sterling K. Brown is believably slimy as the sinister agent Traeger, Keegan-Michael Key gives us some of his usual goofy humour without being insufferable as Coyle, and Jacob Tremblay is alright as young Rory but he is ultimately ill served as the film doesn’t make full use of his acting talents and his character’s Asberger syndrome simply exists as a convenient plot device/superpower – another troublesome area of the script.

From a technical standpoint, The Predator is decently shot and there are a fair amount of cool visuals to keep us interested but there are also plenty of times when the CGI is far too noticable and at certain points, it makes the film look too silly – a far cry from the very effective practical effects of the original 1987 film; the effects in The Predator are sporadically sub-par and the designs of the “upgraded Predator” and his hounds are questionable to say the least. And as for the music, Henry Jackman gives us a good score which reintroduces that great bombastic theme from the ’87 original.

The Predator is gritty and violent enough, with plenty of familiar franchise elements that fans will appreciate, but it’s held back greatly by a muddled, nonsensical story and a few iffy special effects.

★ ★ ★

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