Everything about The Predator starts to make a lot more sense when you find out that the new film’s director both appeared on screen and worked as a script doctor for the original 1987 Schwarzenegger classic. The newest entry in the long-running sci-fi franchise, filled with gory executions by the iconic alien and crude jokes from a squad of crack commandos seems like it could have come out in 1988 instead of a week ago, for good and ill.
Eagle-eyed franchise fans will appreciate how many nods to the series’ past there are. The best tip being the casting of Jake Busey to play the son of his real life father Gary’s Predator 2 character. Director Shane Black (The Nice Guys, Iron Man 3), the guy with the big glasses and inappropriate jokes in the original, clearly respects his source material.
But the history also puts some nice twists that provide a new way of looking at the past behaviors of the titular aliens and the previous films themes. In particular, the big reveal of why the predators have been hunting humans all this time ties in well to ideas of the aliens improving themselves first brought up in 2010’s Predators.
While diehard fans are likely to appreciate the callbacks and the thematic connections, more casual viewers might be less enthused. If you’re not able to enthusiastically laugh and point at the screen and say “Oh this is just like when (X) happened in (Y),” you might instead just find yourself bored by yet another instance of another squad of misfits being picked off in another forest.
The biggest problem, however, is the main character. Admittedly, taking the lead in a franchise started by the legendary Schwarzenegger is not small task. But it's not as though Boyd Holbrook as Army sniper Quinn MacKenna isn't good because he's not a mountain of muscle. It's that he has none of the charisma and charm of Schwarzenegger, or Predator 2's Danny Glover or even Adrian Brody in Predators.
In fact, out of all the characters, especially the motley band of misfit soldiers known as the Loonies that end up as MacKenna's squad, the protagonist is by far the least likeable. Even the evil head of the government's predator research program is far funnier and more enjoyable.
To be fair to Holbrook, the Loonies are pretty good. Part of what made the original Predator so great was the way it subverted the expectations of the action genre at its peak by having a cast the machoest of men, Carl Weathers, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Schwarzenegger, get picked apart with ease. The Predator tries a different trick by replacing the grimacing badasses with a ragtag group of jokesters.
Keegan-Michael Key, best known for the comedy series Key and Peele, is just as funny as in that show. Trevante Rhodes’ (Moonlight, 12 Strong) Nebraska Williams has an easy, laid back cool that would have made him a much better choice for the lead.
Thanks in large part to the Loonies and the aforementioned evil scientist, the film is also genuinely funny with a lot of jokes evoking big belly laughs from the audience.
Unfortunately, the humor also where much of the film's non-technical problems come from. The way the movie treats conditions like PTSD, autism, and Tourette’s syndrome in a way that might have been acceptable in 1987 but are cringe worthy at best today. The few women in the cast also often serve as the butt of many of the crudest jokes, a fact that gets a bit more uncomfortable in light of news that a scene between Olivia Munn as Dr. Casey Brackett and a friend of the director was removed after it came out the latter was a convicted sex offender.
Besides those unfortunate choices, The Predator also has a bevy of more technical problems. In a similar fashion to Promethus, a reboot of Predator's 80s sci-fi sibling franchise Alien, The Predator is full of things that at times feel like dumb mistakes and lazy decisions by the characters and filmmakers alike.
For example, why would the equipment of one alien be able control that of the one chasing them? How can the family Subaru appear in the driveway when the shot immediately prior showed it abandoned somewhere else? How does one predator's ship land conveniently close to MacKenna's home in Georgia, which is also luckily within a night's driving distance of the government's secret predator research lab, despite his escape pod crashing in Mexico with ship on a visibly imminent crash course. Why does a main character not get directly named until maybe 20 minutes before the end?
Some of the problems are the clear result of studio-mandated reshoots and an accompanying sloppy editing process. Others seem like they would still be there no matter what happened during the production process, and they’re the kind of decisions and mistakes that seem inexcusable when you remember something like this has tens of millions of dollars behind it.
If you’re even considering seeing this movie, however, you are probably really only interested in one thing. Does the alien kill people in cool ways? Yes. The alien kills people in cool ways.