When I first heard news about a Predator sequel directed by none other than writer-director Shane Black, I was stoked. That excitement remained, despite the bad word-of-mouth, besides the terrible track record of the series; I was ready to be rocked. I could just imagine the snappy one liners mixed with gruesome sci-fi action as the perfect foundation for this film. I expected at least entertaining, especially from Black. Well, he pulls out all of the Shane-Blackisms he could muster, familiar iconography from the franchise, and a surprisingly strong ensemble to make this film happen, but it isn’t nearly enough to save it. The original Predator has great action, guts, and corny characters. But the sloppy storytelling and lack of creativity just make this movie rough to watch, not only as a Predator sequel, but as a movie.
The original film uses the army squad in South America fighting an alien as a conceit for U.S. interventionist politics in that same area. Yes, it is a dumb 80s action film, but it has a story and writing and thematic elements to it that make it serviceable. Godzilla is about the post-nuclear anxieties of Japan. Dawn of the Dead (1978) is a look at the zombification of the American citizen through consumerism. All of these genre films and more have a thematic core to them that make their story at least cohesive. The Predator is confused on that front. Is it a criticism of the treatment of our veterans? Or maybe the ruthless nature of government and progress. Or it could be a statement of empowerment for the community of people living on the spectrum. I couldn’t tell you. The movie will not pick a lane to tell this story. It swerves all over the road trying to tell all of the stories and ends up saying nothing. It’s just an excuse to go from explosion A to explosion B.
The action isn’t even that great though. Here’s the archetypal fight in this movie. Alien stalks good guys, kills a couple of red-shirts in the group. The alien is surrounded at some point. Point and shoot. The alien escapes via explosion. Then all of the characters get onto their choice mode of transportation and away they go to the next fight. One of the first set pieces is a baseball field. A flat field. It was one of the least creative fights I have ever seen. That lack of creativity is in every fight. Nothing is entertaining or surprising or even engaging.
Some good things though: for one, the acting. The cast of veterans are all awesome and not the butts of jokes at all. Their chemistry and comedy between them were a blast. My favorite parts of the film were the “band of fugitive veterans try to be normal” sequences. Some highlights from that gang are Trevante Rhodes as Nebraska Williams and Thomas Jane as Baxley. Nebraska is a really dark character, but Rhodes gives him this risky confidence and flippancy that’s entertaining to watch. Baxley has Tourette’s, which Jane characterizes in a fantastically realistic way. I can say the same thing about Jacob Tremblay. He depicts Asperger’s in a grounded way, even if it’s strangely MacGuffined in the story. Our main guy is terribly forgettable; I don’t even remember his name. Olivia Munn is fine. Sterling K. Brown tries his best to act through some really terrible expositional dialogue and villainous motives, but he ends up being silly by the end. It’s a real shame though because I love him as an actor (American Crime Story anyone?), but the direction was off, taking any sort of menace from his character.
The other aspects of the movie were competently executed. There’s not a whole lot to say about the other departments though. The story is just so off that the rest of it can’t be too much better than it. If you’re interested in watching The Predator, just wait for streaming. Or don’t watch it at all. When it goes to video there’ll be a compilation video on YouTube for all the best scenes with the group of veterans. Just watch that and you will have seen the only worthwhile parts of this film.
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