On paper, The Predator had all of the right elements to assure us of a slam dunk that the franchise hasn’t seen since the very first film in 1987. Shane Black – who memorably, if briefly, appearedin the original movie as the purveyor of dirty jokes, Hawkins – on board as director. Black co-writing with Fred Dekker, the director and co-writer (also with Black) of another fondly remembered 1987 classic, The Monster Squad. A reboot that honoured the first two films in the franchise (and ignores third entry Predators entirely, as well as not bothering to reference the disastrous AvP movies).
Yet something happened to squander all of that potential; it’s partly down to studio meddling that we get such a muddled, unfocused film which veers wildly in tone from one scene to the next – but even the basics seem to be fumbled here.
A Predator attack is witnessed by a military sniper, the deeply unlikable McKenna. McKenna steals some of the injured Predator’s tech, mailing it to his ex-wife’s address in order to stop it falling into the hands of the government agents who capture him. McKenna’s autistic son opens the package and unwittingly calls in an upgraded – and constantly upgrading – Predator, leaving McKenna, a band of misfit military prisoners and a scientist to stop the creature and save the world.
There’s a huge amount of callbacks to the original film, including in the score – which becomes ridiculously overbearing at times. Several lines of dialogue make reference to lines in the first film – as is often the case with films of this nature; it’s a terrible, relatively recent habit of reboots/sequels and I’ve never seen it used to good effect. All it does is make you recall the first time you heard the line – without fail, it’s always in a far superior scene in a much more satisfying film. It’s a pointless and self-defeating way to lean on past glories.
The only reference that does work is Jake Busey’s brief appearance as scientist Keyes, clearly the son of his real life father Gary Busey’s ill-fated character – also called Keyes – in Predator 2.
The numerous references to prior films isn’t the only thing that falls flat, however. There’s a huge amount of attempts at humour – most of it fairly dark in nature – that just completely miss the mark. Time after time, characters crack wise or have specific traits that are supposed to amuse, but all they do is annoy – especially as the vast majority of characters are as unlikable as main protagonist, McKenna. Nearly every single character is an asshole and the only thing you’ll feel as they die is a sense of relief that you don’t have to put up with their schtick any more (we have ‘Tourette’s Asshole’, ‘Religious Asshole’ and ‘Annoyingly Constant Chewing Asshole’ as just three examples). Not only does the humour almost constantly fail, but there’s far too much reliance on straight up murder and death being played for laughs, even in front of – and with – McKenna’s kid. It’s really jarring.
There’s the odd positive here and there though: the prosthetic effects, particularly on the ‘standard’ Predator, are fantastic – and there’s some brilliantly inventive and satisfying gore. Yet so much of the CGI work is appallingly bad for such a high profile production – and the design of the upgrade Predator is murkily dark, to the extent that you can’t even tell when he’s ‘upgrading’. Olivia Munn’s scientist character tells us that he’s upgraded an ‘exoskeleton under his skin’ at one point and – setting aside the fact that it wouldn’t be an exoskeleton anyway if it’s under his skin – I genuinely went back to the scene a few times and couldn’t see what she saw at all. And let’s not even mention the awful Predator dog creatures, which fail to convince even once.
So much of the events are either poorly explained or just make no sense regardless; character motivations, abilities and alliances seem to shift in a completely unbelievable way constantly and it never feels like we have a coherent story. To top it all off, there’s a supremely ill-judged final scene that is just another laughably awkward attempt at being badass.
It’s such a shame; as someone who has a deep affection for the original (and even a grudging, guilty enjoyment of the second and third films), it’s such a disappointment for me to see The Predator fail so badly in almost every way.
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