Another Missed Opportunity
September 20, 2018
With its primal story of survival and its ultra-macho attitude, John McTiernan’s Predator is still lauded as an action classic to this day and went on to generate two direct sequels along with two spin-offs in the Alien vs. Predator series.
Now from writer/director Shane Black, who had a comic relief role as Hawkins in the 1987 original, comes The Predator, another sequel that doubles as a way to reboot an ailing franchise.
On paper, this new film seems to have the qualifications to work within the Predator series, but the actual result feels both overwritten and underdirected while also seeming to add little to the franchise’s overall mythology.
The story once again centers around a Predator ship that comes crashing to Earth when it’s discovered by decorated Army sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), who confiscates armor from the ship and mails it to his home to keep it out of the government’s hands. The Predator’s body is then brought to a laboratory, where it’s observed by biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) before the creature awakens and escapes the facility, leaving loads of mangled bodies in its wake. After being picked up for investigation by an Agent Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), McKenna is recruited, along with a ragtag band of veterans, to bring the Predator down at any cost.
This group, which includes likable actors like Trevante Rhodes and Keegan-Michael Key, is reminiscent of the misfit military men from the first Predator film, but the characters here lack the necessary depth and personality. The film comes to a screeching halt to introduce each new character in the most perfunctory way possible, outlining how each person is likely to behave and why we should care about them. It has all the elegance and tact of an overly eager elevator pitch and it’s the result of lazy writing that doesn’t trust the audience’s ability to ascertain all of the necessary character traits without the “help” of clunky dialogue.
That particular scene is emblematic of a larger problem with The Predator. The script is needlessly busy weaving together plot points that feel like they belong to completely different genres altogether. The first Predator has just about the most basic premise possible — alien lands in the jungle, army men have to kill it — but makes the most of this simple setup by slowly wringing tension from the treacherous nature of the surroundings. By contrast, the convoluted screenplay of the newest entry ensures that our characters will be unceremoniously shuffled around from one location to another with little idea what good it will do them.
Shane Black, who has previously written and directed quality quippy films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys, also has experience with big-budget action fare after his work on Marvel’s Iron Man 3, but he seems hopelessly lost here. The only actor who really seems to get the balance of hubris and humor right is Trevante Rhodes, who turns in what is, by far, the film’s most compelling performance following his star-making turn in the 2016 Best Picture winner Moonlight. If the rest of the cast had been on the same page with him, then The Predator could have at least worked as an ensemble comedy of sorts, but it’s just one of the film’s many missed opportunities.
Coming to theaters this weekend:
The House with a Clock in its Walls, starring Jack Black and Cate Blanchett, is a family-friendly fantasy film from Eli Roth, who has previously directed not so family-friendly fare like Hostel and The Green Inferno.
Life Itself, starring Oscar Isaac and Olivia Wilde, is an ensemble romantic comedy-drama based in New York and Spain from the creator of the hit NBC series This Is Us.
Fahrenheit 11/9, the new provocative documentary from Michael Moore, is a sequel of sorts to his 2004 doc Fahrenheit 9/11 that covers the 2016 US presidential election and the subsequent presidency of Donald Trump.
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