IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 107 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
When a fleeing Predator ship is damaged in combat, it’s forced to make a hasty landing in Mexico and crashes right into the middle of a US military operation against a crime syndicate. Before becoming unconscious, the pilot kills all the soldiers except sniper Quinn McKenna, who sends some artifacts to his P.O. box in Texas where they end up in the possession of his autistic son Rory. Taken in for questioning, Quinn is paired with other damaged veterans who fail to believe his account of an alien encounter. However, the alien has been found and brought to a secret facility for tests, and when it escapes Quinn, his companions and disgruntled science teacher Casey Bracket set out to find it….
As is becoming something of a norm with us at HCF, I intended to do a run down of the Predator franchise in the lead-up to the release of The Predator, listing the films from worst to best. However, I ended up not having time, and anyway I reckon most people’s lists would be very similar. I would imagine that nearly everyone would have the two Alien Vs Predator efforts at the bottom, Predators in the middle, and Predator and Predator 2 at the top with Predator as number one. My list would have been like that, though I’m one of those weirdoes who enjoy Predator 2 slightly more than the first movie so I may have struggled which film to have as number one. In any case, I never would have thought that the latest installment in the franchise would end up belonging way down in the lower side of things, scarcely better than the Alien Vs Predator films which were both botched efforts. Despite all the reports of re-shoots and a certain incident involving writer/director Shane Black, actress Olivia Munn and a sex offender which I won’t go into but which doesn’t show Black in a good light at all, I had faith in Black and remained convinced that the writer of the likes of Lethal Weapon and The Monster Squad would re-ignite the franchise after the just average Predators from 2010.
However, the result, if not quite an out and out disaster, is a major failure, a mess of weak plotting, more bad ideas than good, tiresome dialogue and gory death scenes which may deliver for those just out for some good old blood and guts which is something that we see less of in big studio movies these days, but which can’t really compensate for the stodge elsewhere. And, while studio interference may well have weakened matters, and many of the CG effects are very poor indeed, one must sadly lay much of the blame for what went wrong at Black’s feet. Maybe he wasn’t as good a fit for this series as many of us may have thought, but more than that he, along with his old screenwriting collaborator Fred Dekker, clearly seems to have had an off-day, much of what he comes up with coming across more as a weak imitation of his style than the real thing. I sometimes think that Black is overrated as a writer, and he’s certainly given too much credit – no, despite what some writers claim he did not introduce humour into the modern action movie as the likes of Steven E. De Souza will tell you – but when he’s on fire he’s terrific, and two out of his four previous directorial efforts Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys belong for me in the top 30 films of their respective years.
So we open with some brief Predator action, plus a reasonable CG gore effect as our main character Quinn is ‘possessed’ I suppose you would call it [it’s not made clear though not much else is either so at least you get consistency] by the wounded Predator, though don’t expect this idea to play an important part in the story later on. Instead it just comes and goes and could have almost be removed entirely. We then meet Quinn’s son Rory who’s autistic and therefore because of this quickly learns all about the Predator bits that soon winds up in his possession. This is another interesting notion that could have been developed, but unsurprisingly not much is done with it, and Jacob Trembley, whose magnificent performance in Room remains one of the best performances by a child actor ever, looks a bit lost in his part. Faring better is Olivia Munn as Casey Bracket who’s involved with studying the Predator, though it’s undoubtedly a hard struggle when you’re playing a character who is considered worthy of calling in by the American government to consult on alien contact because she wrote a letter about aliens to the US President when she was six years old [who writes this shit? Um….], and who has lines like: “He grew an exoskeleton under his skin!”, even though neither she nor us have seen such a thing.
Quinn is thrown in with a bunch of tough misfits and at least here we get to see the likes of Thomas Jane and Keegan-Michael Kay having fun, though something’s certainly off. Black piles on the supposedly killer one-liners and in these increasingly restrictive PC-dominated times it’s undoubtedly refreshing that he’s not afraid to offend. However, these people don’t seem anywhere near like actual rounded characters or real people and – well, despite my hatred of political correctness which for me is becoming a truly insidious way of controlling what people say, do and even think – having moments like a guy who suffers from Tourettes shouting “eat your pussy” at one of the film’s two sole major female characters can’t help but leave a bad taste in the mouth when said character is characterised by little else. When this lot decides to go into action against the alien threat and you know will begin to be killed off, it’s hard to feel much concern for them, while, as in The Meg, the joking around continues even when the situation gets really bad and gets irritating. At least there really is a good variety of death scenes – Jason Voorhees would be proud – even though they tend to be of the ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ kind – which is possibly just as well considering the poor graphics. Comparing the two Predators in the film is revealing. The first one is a superb man in suit job with everything clear and moving smoothly. The second, Mega Predator is all CGI, sometimes has blurry parts, and rarely convinces at all. A fight between the two is a truly wasted scene. And then there’s the Predator dog-like creatures who look like they’ve escaped from some Syfy production and who feature in some of the film’s stupidest moments. In one scene they just seem to stand around getting shot, while one of them becomes friendly for no apparent reason and even plays fetch.
It all winds up with a speeded up rehash of the first movie, but there’s little time for actual suspense and by then the coincidence-filled, even random plotting has made it hard to be totally involved. The action rarely slows and Black just about manages to keep it coherent despite the very fast cutting, but it’s ridiculous that the humans can operate every single weapon and devices from predators with no effort, while the intelligence, tactics and employment of weapons that we’ve come to expect from these creatures is almost non existent. It’s almost as if Black and Dekker [sorry] had just read a little bit about the earlier films rather than actually watching them, with the result that they would have been better off not having their aliens as Predators at all. I did laugh at a scene where one of them chops off a man’s hand at the back of a vehicle and uses it, replete with a thumbs up sign, to lead the driver into thinking everything’s alright in the back seat. But the combination of violence and humour which we all know Black can do so well just doesn’t jell here, and more often than not I was either chuckling or sighing at the dumbness of the screenplay in which little seems thought through and little comes together even though the basic plot is a rehash of the first Alien Vs Predator’s.
Of course every now and again you get a reminder, whether intentional or nor [I did like Casey saying: “You are one beautiful mother******” to her captive Predator], of past glories, though they tend to just have the effect of making you wish you were watching Predator for the umpteenth time. Much of Henry Jackman’s score basically re-mixes Alan Silvestri’s now almost iconic work, though it doesn’t sound anywhere near as good. The Predator is not completely terrible – most of the acting is fine with Boyd Holbrook continuing to impress, there’s a lot of creative bloodletting for those of us who like that sort of thing, and the open ending certainly leaves us with some intriguing possibilities – but I just don’t trust this series, whether helmed by Black or not – to do much that is good with them. As with the Alien franchise, I can’t help thinking that the distinct possibility that Disney [who’ve recently taken over 20th Century Fox] may not be interested in continuing the series further is actually a good thing.