When an army sniper witnesses an attack by a seemingly invisible extraterrestrial hunter, he and his estranged family are dragged into both a government conspiracy and an alien civil war.
A satirical news site once proclaimed “Marriage Not As Good As Predator“, a statement that tells you the absurd reverence with which the first (and, thirty-plus years later, still best) film to feature Stan Winston’s sublime creature design is held.
Yet the problem with 1987’s seminal original – at least for any continuations of the series – is that it was its own subversion. Once it stripped original supersoldier Arnold Schwarzenegger of his über-macho squadmates, his weapons and eventually even his clothes, it had already deconstructed its own genre and western masculinity (whether deliberately or not is still debated; the film was directed by John McTiernan and re-written by this sequel’s helmer Shane Black, both of whom who would go on to undermine the male ego in Die Hard, Last Action Hero, Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). All this is to say that, once Arnie had his arse totally handed to him and half of the Central American rainforest was decimated by a nuclear explosion, where was there left to go?
Certainly not here, a hodgepodge of bad effects, incoherent action and easter eggs so lame they need readying for the glue factory.
After a decent opening in which Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) memorably encounters a Predator made visible by the dripping blood of an unfortunate victim, and Sterling K. Brown’s snarky government agent introduces himself as a potentially great – yet ultimately wasted – villain, the film completely slides all over the place. Characters are introduced (including Jake Busey in a cute and meta nod to the under-appreciated Predator 2, and Yvonne Strahovski playing, I presume, “Wife Shaped Person”) and then never seen again, whilst entire scenes seem to have been removed without being replaced with anything logical. How else to explain a mode of transport appearing out of nowhere between locations? The performances are all sound enough, with Olivia Munn and Thomas Jane in particular adding depth to what could have been token female and comedy roles – although why Jane’s character has Tourettes is a mystery, save to allow for one crudely funny exchange with Munn – but everyone is let down by a film that has no focus. Explanations and motivations come out of nowhere, explained and barely congealed by the hazy dark matter of bored screenwriting I call “Stuff”. Why are the Predators here? Global warming stuff. Why are they fighting against each other? Random violent alien stuff. Why, if one is ostensibly trying to help humanity, do they then massacre an entire facility full of, y’know…humans? Well…stuff. Just stuff, okay? Next scene!
This is a shame, as Shane Black has for thirty years been a man whose writing doesn’t mind going between violent, absurd and knowing, sometimes in the same scene – see the moment in The Nice Guys, where Ryan Gosling tries to break into a bar he needs info from, only for him to belatedly realise smashing glass using his hands like in any other movie is actually painful and hospitalising. The deepest The Predator gets, on the other hand, is a scene where one character points to a row of motorbikes and proclaims “Get to the choppers!”.
Being generous, the film is pleasingly old school in its approach to VHS-era gore, and there are some great Shane Black moments shining through the obviously reshot mediocrity (a group of soldiers trying their hardest not to freak out a woman just waking from a tranquiliser-induced sleep, and the very final line is an action movie zinger for the ages). Overall, though, this is a marginal step-up from Predators, better than either AvP, which means it is unfortunately nowhere near the quality needed to guarantee the nutso sequel teased here.
The Predator is out on general release in the UK