Director: Shane Black
Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Jacob Tremblay, Sterling K. Brown, Keegan-Michael Key, Augusto Aguilera, Thomas Jane, Trevante Rhodes, Alfie Allen
It’s safe to say the widely-anticipated fourth instalment (sixth if you count the Alien vs. Predator films) in the Predator series; The Predator, has had some ups and downs prior to release. Directed by Shane Black (The Nice Guys), who played Rick Hawkins in the original Predator film, audiences were promised an event film set to “elevate” the Predator series. Unfortunately what audiences got is a messy story mired in controversy.
Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, Logan) has seen some things – namely the Predators and their ship. Whilst being taken away to a military psychiatric facility he sees the Predator again and with the help of the other afflicted soldiers in the bus and Dr. Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn, X-Men: Apocalypse) he takes on the universe’s most lethal hunters to save his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay, Room) and the entire planet from certain doom.
That sounds exciting doesn’t it? It sounds like I’ve left out massive swathes of plot because I don’t want to spoil all the complexities for you? I’m sorry to say this, but I haven’t.
Trying to write a plot synopsis for The Predator is hard because the plot is not only paper-thin, but also full of holes. The most interesting plot point, involving the Predators and why they were here, is briefly mentioned twice and then glossed over which is a shame because it sounded like it would be a thoroughly engaging story focussed almost completely on the titular character – essentially what the entire film should have been about. I presume that they plan to cover this in the next film as a main plot device but it means that this film feels like one long prologue for an actual Predator film rather a Predator film in its own right.
If you love films that are action-packed there is at least that saving grace. The Predator is full of slick action sequences, plus intense violence and gore to make it deserve its age certificate and ensure it follows in the sci-fi/horror footsteps of the other films. They’ve gone very CGI-heavy here which I’m aware is popular these days but my heart will always appreciate practical effects more, however that is simply a personal choice. Based on the way certain scenes were shot you can see that they were keen to appeal to the 3D audience – which is why it wasn’t surprising to see that two thirds of the showings for today were either in 3D or 4DX. I could see The Predator being more entertaining in a 4DX screen; they seem the perfect setup for action films to be enjoyed on.
It feels clear watching The Predator that Black was influenced by several films, The Expendables and Taken in particular with a dash of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It has the rag-tag group of misfit heroes, a man on a mission to save his family, and a child fascinated by something dangerous. But none of it feels cohesive to a bigger story due to the aforementioned thin plot. It was nice to see the nods to the earlier films in an attempt to tie them all together but it doesn’t quite land – though to be fair the films have never quite felt tied together enough to be considered a true franchise so it wouldn’t be fair to put the blame on The Predator for failing at that too. One day they’ll find a way to do it I’m sure.
When it comes to the cast it’s hard to critique as most of the characters were one-dimensional or barely used, but I truly feel that they all did the best they could with what they were given. These are all experienced actors who have proven they can give mesmerising and engaging performances on other works, and they are wasted here – especially Olivia Munn who takes a backseat to the male characters when she clearly should be important to the story. Fleshing out their backstories and characters would have allowed the audience to know and empathise with them, and most importantly would have given the film the depth and intimacy that Black was seeking. They feel like complete strangers for the entirety of the film. You should always feel something for the characters in a film (whether good or bad), because without that feeling how can you engage with the story?
Obviously we have to talk about the elephant in the room here – Black hiring his friend, registered sex offender Steven Wilder Striegel, and not telling the cast about his background, removing the freedom of choice from them to air concerns or to decide if they wanted to work with him. As you all know it fell to Olivia Munn who found out about it to make it known. His apologies regarding the matter have been fully lacking and the recent ostracising of Olivia shows an immaturity that is frankly disappointing. In a world of #metoo and #timesup there is absolutely no excuse for this, and the whole thing leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Sterling Brown has reached out on Twitter to her in support, and the rest of the cast have issued statements following building pressure to do so, but it’s surprising that more support wasn’t instantly forthcoming. After all she did the right thing by the cast, the victim, the film, and the studio. Keeping him in the film and it being found out would have torpedoed it for sure, if it ever got to see the light of day as films and shows have been pulled completely in recent months due to this sort of thing. Long story short, Striegel should never have been cast and you can bet studios will be watching Black far more closely lest they get mired by something similar.
But back to the film itself – The Predator is a cheesy action flick that feels like it takes itself too seriously when there is no merit to do so. Alternating between laughable action one-liners that are enjoyable funny and heavy foreshadowing that means nothing is a surprise (it’s insulting to the audience too, nuance is key when you want to hint towards what’s to come) it’s a film that doesn’t entirely seem to know where it’s headed but wherever it’s going it’s taking the messy route. Rather than elevate the series The Predator works better when thought of as an action-packed summer popcorn flick that happens to have a few Predators in it. If you’re planning to see it, go for 3D or 4DX and just enjoy the action spectacle.
Overall Rating: 2/5 (I rounded up for this to be kind)
Watchable and visually slick, but the controversy around Striegel is sadly more engaging than the lacking story.