What a journey it’s been for filmmaker Shane Black. Around 31 years after contributing to the screenplay of John McTiernan’s Arnold Schwarzenegger action sci-fi film Predator, which also saw him take on the small role of rescue team member Hawkins, Black directs and co-writes his own entry – the sixth film in the franchise if you count the two Alien crossover films.
Black is no stranger to studio franchise films, of course, having helmed the hugely successful Marvel film Iron Man 3. Although perhaps his fans have come about more due to his violent-yet-humourous crime-laden efforts, such as the scripts for Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout, and his writing-directing projects Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys. With The Predator, Black sticks to what he does best: driving an energetic, quip-filled narrative with some serviceable direction. It’s a fun entry in the franchise, although as can be the case with some of Black’s work, perhaps it’s just a little too chilled out for its own good.
The plot follows a team of tough-guy, troubled soldiers led by Boyd Holbrook’s badass and action hero throwback Quinn McKenna. The unlikely team find themselves taking on this alien hunter, while government goons on their tails serve as body-count fodder. Also along for the ride is a science teacher played by Olivia Munn and a genius young boy played by Jacob ‘he should have really been Oscar nominated for Room‘ Tremblay. There’s more of a plot than that, but it’s very simple stuff, so I’ll let you enjoy the developments yourself (even the trailers have tried to keep the narrative points down to a minimum).
If you’re a fan of the Predator franchise, there’s more than enough here for you to get a kick – and gory slash – out of. There are quite a few nods, including some very obvious, admittedly amusing little moments that will have audiences giggling. Black and co. have decided not to take much of the shenanigans too seriously, injecting a surprising level of humour to much of the proceedings.
It should be said: perhaps there may be some fans of the original two films that will find the relentless smart-alec dialogue and humour a distraction from the horror tones that could be present. Well, it does, but it’s also very clear very quickly that high tension and unsettling isn’t the name of the game here. This is sci-fi action of the nudge-nudge, popcorn-munching, crowd-pleasing variety. Yes, it’s violent, there’s a high body count and there’s a bountiful amount of crimson on display, but it’s delivered in snappy doses with tongue in cheek.
The Predator gleefully embraces the ‘it’s just a movie’ element of old-school action flicks, which gives it an accessible tone but also proves to be a bit of a detraction. The script is lean, to the point where it’s almost begging for some added depth or plot development. Things kind of just happen… because. It’s hard to tell what’s meant to be a “surprise” in the story, or if there’s even supposed to be any sort of reveal meant to lift an eyebrow, since it all rolls along at such as care-free pace. Thank goodness for that pacing though; without it, you’d be left to ponder the truly silly character decisions and the tiresome contrivances even more.
There’s also little characterisation here that serves as anything more than plot filler or joke service; simplistic personas that deliver a few amusing moments while you await their run-in with the titular creature. Good luck trying to care about anyone, really, even adorable Tremblay’s Rory can’t elicit much more than a slight awwh with a line or two that he delivers. That being said, the cast do well with what they’re given. The guys really seem to be having a good time and bounce off each other nicely – Thomas Jane needs more chances to show what he can do in comedy – and Munn holds her own as exposition-injector Casey Bracket. They’re an amiable bunch.
As mentioned, don’t expect too much in the way of tension or horror-fused mayhem. Black goes for the slick and safe approach with the action, providing energetic, bloody sequences that capitalize on the Predator technology and the bigger-is-better angle of a new creature. There are also some alien dogs thrown in that are somewhat amusing but don’t really provide much, and they seem as though they’ve run in from another movie. There was the chance to provide more originality, if not in the narrative then at least the action sequences and the kills, but most of it is kept within the expected. Some of that CGI isn’t quite up to scratch either.
The Predator isn’t the failure that some were fearing, nor is it the ‘hell yeah’ that many were wishing for. But it is a good bit of fun, offering an entertaining night out to undemanding audiences happy to go along for a knowingly silly ride.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★ ★ ★☆☆
‘The Predator’ is in Australian cinemas from 13 September and U.S. cinemas from 14 September.