When it comes to classic 80’s action films, one of the most widely praised of that era is Predator. While initially receiving a mixed reaction upon its release, director John McTiernan’s sci-fi action flick, which follows a bunch of commandos who find themselves hunted by a mysterious alien creature who hunts for sport, has gone on to become one of the definitive films of both the action and sci-fi genres. And after undergoing a pivotal change in design halfway through shooting, the Predator now stands as one of the most iconic alien creatures of all-time up there with the Xenomorphs from Alien. However, unlike the Alien films, the Predator series hasn’t seen as many appearances on the big screen. It got a sequel, Predator 2, in 1990, but outside of the poorly-received crossovers that it did with the Alien franchise in the early 2000’s, it didn’t see an official sequel until 2010’s Predators. And even then, neither film was as well-regarded as the original. But now the Predator series is back with the fourth installment of the main series, simply titled The Predator. The film serves as the latest directorial outing for Shane Black, whose career in the film industry needs no introduction having penned classics like Lethal Weapon and directing critically-acclaimed films such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys along with the criminally underrated Iron Man 3. And in the case of The Predator, Black’s had quite a history with this franchise as he had played the character of Hawkins in the original film. This new film also sees a reunion between Black and co-writer Fred Dekker, who had previously worked together on the 1987 cult classic The Monster Squad. But as for their newest collaboration, they deliver an entertaining sci-fi action flick that isn’t quite as good as the original film but is still easily the best follow-up that the franchise has gotten up to this point.
When a mysterious ship crash-lands in the middle of a Mexican jungle, a team of Army Rangers led by Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) investigates the crash site and come across one of the terrifying creatures known as ‘Predators’. Quinn ends up being the only survivor of the group but manages to find some of the creature’s technology, which he sends back home to his ex-wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski) and their autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) in Georgia to keep it hidden from the government. However, Quinn soon ends up getting apprehended by the government and deemed ‘crazy’ due to most people not believing his story of his run-in with the Predator. Meanwhile, Rory ends up opening his father’s package when it arrives and starts to fiddle with its contents, unintentionally sending out a signal that attracts the attention of a much larger ‘Super Predator’ that had been hunting the smaller Predator that Quinn and his team had encountered. At the same time, that Predator, which has since been detained by the government at a secret facility, breaks out of its confinement and heads off to collect its gear by any means necessary. Thus, with two different Predators heading towards his family, Quinn teams up with a bunch of fellow ‘crazy’ soldiers, including ex-Marine Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes) and the wise-cracking Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), plus biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), to stop the two alien creatures before they can cause some major damage.
The first thing to note about this film is that being a Shane Black film, it, of course, features his most definitive trait as a filmmaker, his knack for snappy dialogue. This dialogue is all throughout the film and results in consistent humor throughout, especially whenever the main characters interact with each other. The film also benefits from having some solid pacing, at least when in contrast to the slower build-up of some of the franchise’s previous installments. In other words, this film gets going right out the gate and is non-stop with its action. However, that doesn’t mean that this is entirely a good thing. Because the film goes by so fast, it doesn’t really have much time to stop and take a breather, and because of this, it does result in some pivotal plot lines (e.g. the demise of certain characters) and even a few bits of the humorous dialogue being glossed over. This ends up being the case all the way through to the ending, culminating in a finale that hasn’t been received very well by a lot of critics. And to make this situation even more ironic, that ending was the one major thing that Black and his crew reshot after the original ending didn’t go over very well with test audiences. In other words, it does kind of feel like a few problems emerged during the editing process. It was reported that some parts of the film were trimmed down (to the point where a character played by Edward James Olmos was cut out entirely) so that it wouldn’t be negatively affected by a hefty run-time. And yet, in this instance, it probably would’ve helped the film to have a longer run-time, even if it meant that this would’ve been the first Predator film to be over two hours long, because it ends up sporting a rather bare-bones plot due in part to its frenetic pacing.
Admittedly character development has never really been the Predator franchise’s strongest suit. Even the original 1987 film, when it was first released, was criticized for not spending a lot of time developing its characters. This trend does continue with the new film, but at the very least, it does benefit from having the best ensemble cast since the original film (and yes, I know I just said that about the Predators cast a few days back in the Predator series retrospective…). Not only do all the main stars do a great job with Black’s trademark dialogue, but they also have phenomenal camaraderie together. The film does admittedly go the same route as Predators by giving us a bunch of characters who aren’t exactly the most likable in the world, but they’re a lot more entertaining to watch by comparison. Boyd Holbrook is solid in the lead role of Quinn as is Jacob Tremblay as his son Rory. The team that Quinn ‘assembles’ in the film also has some notable standouts as well, like Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Jane as Coyle and the PTSD-ridden Baxley, respectively, who bicker constantly throughout the film (e.g. Coyle hurls a lot of ‘your mama’ jokes at Baxley). Some are a bit underutilized, however, like Alfie Allen as ex-marine Lynch and even Olivia Munn as main female protagonist Casey Bracket. But arguably the one who gets it the worst is Sterling K. Brown as Will Traeger, the agent who runs the government facility that the smaller Predator is initially held at and then leads the operation to hunt both Predators down. Without spoiling anything major, the screenplay decides to have him serve as an antagonist towards Quinn and company for no real reason. Brown is great in the role, but he’s ultimately just as waylaid by the erratic editing/pacing as everyone else.
Now to be clear, I’m not saying that this film is ‘as good’ as the original Predator… but what I can say is that, despite everything that I’ve said in this review, it’s easily the best of the series’ sequels. Under the direction of someone who is clearly quite familiar with the franchise (i.e. one of the original film’s cast members), The Predator is a thrilling sci-fi B-movie thanks to its decent (albeit extremely frenetic) pacing and a strong ensemble cast that works phenomenally with Shane Black and Fred Dekker’s dialogue. With that said, though, that doesn’t mean that this film is flawless. While its rapid-fire pace is welcome after the tepid pacing of 2010’s Predators, it also means that the film basically rushes through everything, and this does really affect things in the long run, resulting in a film that doesn’t have much of a plot to it and characters that, despite being entertaining to watch, don’t have a lot to work with in terms of character development. From the looks of it, something must’ve happened during the editing process that led to all these issues, apparently due to the necessity to not have the film be overlong. Ultimately, though, I’d say that your enjoyment of this film will depend on whether you’re okay with it not really spending a lot of time with things like plot and characters. In other words, I do agree with everyone else in stating that this film is quite a big mess from both a narrative and technical perspective and that it is far from being Shane Black’s best film as a director. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t an entertaining big mess.