For me, the release of Shane Black’s The Predator was an exciting opportunity. I consider myself a genre film fan. But somehow I’d never seen any of the movies in the Predator universe. So, as I’m sure 20th Century Fox intended, I spent the week leading up to the release of The Predator studying up on the film franchise that had somehow escaped my notice.
If there is 30-year-old film franchise worth trying to catch up on in a week, it is the Predator franchise. The films are practically engineered to be binged. They’re light on plot, heavy on thrills. Douchy guys with big arms (or, occasionally, Xenomorphs with pointy tails) find themselves pitted against a Predator alien in a fight to the death. We find ourselves cheering for the alien because the men are ass holes and it kills them in exciting ways. But, as the group of douchy men is slowly dwindled down to only the names we recognize, our allegiances turn. By the film’s end, we are satisfied that our hero slew the beast.
Where The Predator fails to impress is in how far it stays from this successful formula. The film is too concerned with explaining its own plot, and it gets in its own way consistently. From word one, the movie demands that the audience understand every minute detail of the plot. The result is a clunky and overburdened film. At its best, it still has some of the what made the original franchise installments exciting. But at its worst, it is something I never expected a Predator movie to be: boring.
The Predator‘s Plot
The hero of this Predator movie is Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) whose arms are disappointingly small compared to our past protagonists’. He’s a sniper who whose mission is interrupted by a Predator ship crash landing squarely on his squad mates. McKenna manages to disable the Predator long enough to steal its gear as evidence that he had an encounter with an extraterrestrial. He mails the evidence back to a PO box in his hometown. But thanks to back payments owed to the US Postal Service, the Predator’s armor ends up at the home of his son and estranged wife.
At the same time, a government group with the impossible name Project Starwatch is tracking the incoming Predator ship. The group, led by Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) is hunting the Predator. And while they miss the alien menace, they find McKenna. To try and discredit the only living witness of an alien invasion, they ship him off to join a squad of mentally unstable veterans with names like Coyle, Nebraska, and Nettles. This group of shell-shocked war heroes colloquially goes by the name The Loonies.
At this point, the movie becomes a race between the government, The, and the Predator to see who can get to McKenna’s family first. It’s in this third act that the film actually starts to feel like it deserves the Predator title. Unfortunately, the audience has had far too many opportunities to check out before the classic hunt begins. Not even the appearance of a second, 11-foot tall Predator hunting Predator is enough to make up for the tedium of the story.
The end of The Predator is perhaps the most disappointing part. We discover that one of the two Predators from the film was here to give humanity a weapon to fight Predators. The weapon is an Iron Man type suit called The Predator Killer. Fox’s plan for a sequel inevitably included McKenna dawning the suit to challenge a fleet of Predators and launch an expanded universe of films.
While these ideas are in vogue in modern cinema, they go against everything that has always made the Predator movies great. When the Predator films have been at their best, they have existed in a vacuum. A true Predator movie in 2018 could have been great. A low-budget high-action survival thriller in the era of big budget superhero blockbusters would be refreshing. Unfortunately, Shane Black’s The Predator is more worried about blending in than standing out. With any luck, the legacy of this installment in the franchise will disappear more thoroughly than its villain.