The Predator is a decent attempt at revitalizing the storied franchise, but Shane Black just doesn’t quite hit his mark in this throwback action flick that can’t quite live up to its potential.
Starting From The Middle
“The Predator” jumps into the action right away. In quick succession, we get to see an alien space-chase, a sniper mission in Mexico, a crash, and some predator vs. human action. It’s clear that Black wants the audience to enjoy the guns and gore, and he delivers immediately. That’s not to say there aren’t some quiet moments as well though.
There is a decent amount of character development found in “The Predator,” and most of the main cast is fleshed-out quite well. The rag-tag team of misfits is about the best one could ask for. A group who shouldn’t be together but learn to band together for survival – a trope that’s executed well here. The dynamic and irreverence in “The Predator” are what audiences wanted from 2016’s “Suicide Squad” but never got. It’s a shame that Boyd Holbrook, who plays the main protagonist Quinn McKenna, is squandered a little. In action movies with ensemble casts, the star tends to be the solid ground that everyone plays off. Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key) and Baxley (Thomas Jane) seem to have all the fun, Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes) has a better story arc, and Casey (Olivia Munn) is arguably the more functional hero. Quinn doesn’t lack the motivation or heroics, but he seems bland overall. Like some toast, he’s only there to serve up the better elements of this sandwich, never adding anything too exciting. Sterling K. Brown on the other hand is always engaging when on screen, and one of my favorite throughout the runtime.
Where everything fell apart for me was the lack of follow-through on some of those character motivations though. There were at least two characters that presented one way only for a revelation later that their motivation should have led to entirely different actions. Sure, some may say that what I’m describing is a twist, but this isn’t one because there’s no follow-through. What’s even more frustrating is that one of the motivations would have lead to a different movie altogether, one that’s promised as a sequel in the end. Sure, that might be good on a marketing level, but it’s not okay on a narrative level when a character acts in direct contention with what they allegedly want to accomplish.
Character Chatter and Callbacks
On a high note, the dialogue in “The Predator” is everything you would want in this type of movie. Everyone has their fair share of snark, and even in a world of snark Keegan-Michael Key’s Coyle manages to out-snark them all. It oddly never got annoying, but I went in expecting nothing less. It added to the charm that Black was aiming for with the 80’s film making style that seems to be front and centre. The banter might not be for everyone, as it was overly machismo. However, it follows through with the characters. Everyone has a chance at making some notable and quotable lines by the time the credits roll. There’s also a good chunk of clever callbacks to the original movies, with some quotable lines that fans will immediately recognize and appreciate. There’s even a Bussey involved as a legacy character for fans of the second movie.
Speaking of the Bussey involvement, the element I enjoyed the most was the direct acknowledgment of the previous entries. Outside of the “vs. Aliens” spin-off, the other two movies are directly addressed and it’s implied that the events of “Predators” were somewhat known. It’s nothing huge, but this type of thing plays to fans of the series well. For the casual audience, it would have been nice to have a better title though. “Predator”, “Predator 2”, “Predators,” “The Predator” won’t be fun to figure out – who’s on first, am I right?
While “The Predator” might not get the critical acclaim that usually surrounds movies of the fall season, I think fans of the series and genre will enjoy shutting their brains off for a couple of hours and enjoying this ride. Witty dialogue, no-nonsense visceral action, and good use of lore can’t seem to elevate “The Predator” from being just ‘okay.’ There isn’t much distinctively ‘wrong’ about the movie, but there’s nothing ground-breaking here either. Here’s hoping the next instalment will cash the cheque that “The Predator” wrote and give us the story that this should have been.