From the outer reaches of space to the small-town streets of suburbia, the hunt comes home in Shane Black’s reinvention of the Predator series. Now, the universe’s most lethal hunters are stronger, smarter and deadlier than ever before, having genetically upgraded themselves with DNA from other species. When a young boy accidentally triggers their return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race.
The prospect of a new Predator film is an enticing one. Particularly when it comes from Shane Black, acclaimed writer of Lethal Weapon, Last Action Hero and The Monster Squad, director of Iron Man 3 – and original cast member in John McTiernan’s 1987 sci-fi action-horror. Fans of the original have never lost their enthusiasm for it, despite what are generally considered to be below-par sequels, and watching it today proves the film still stands up. It’s a classic, with a simple premise made all the more impactful upon the discovery that the hostile alien hunts for sport.
But though Black deserves credit for finding a new direction in which to take the series, his heavy-handed tinkering with the story combined with his efforts to recapture the spirit of the original has resulted in a fourth Predator film (sixth if you count the two Alien vs Predator films) that fails spectacularly to reignite a flagging franchise. Alarm bells rang when news broke of extensive reshoots, and audiences would do well to heed the warning.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps — since Black played one of Dutch‘s team of special forces operatives, Hawkins, in the original – the writer-director has attempted to replicate the team vibe of the 1987 film here. He throws together a bunch of testosterone-fuelled misfits (check) with a token woman (check), who spends as much energy battling to overcome men pigeonholing and underestimating her as she does fighting entrails-obsessed ‘space aliens’.
Sexist, Tasteless and Threatening
In his eagerness to replicate the tone of the original, Black is at pains to chuck in gags and idiosyncratic characters wherever he can. But where the often overly blokey humour seemed natural in the original and enhanced the film – and helped you decide who was expendable based on how grotesque their comments/personalities were thereby allowing you to revel in each dispatch – here, it all just feels forced. And just so cringe. Not to mention a little bit offensive.
A Tourette’s-afflicted Thomas Jane is permitted sexist, tasteless – and frankly, threatening — pussy jokes in front of Olivia Munn’s biologist character, Casey Bracket, as a result of his condition. All while the rest of the team attempting to take down the alien threat is beset by the continuous need to act like perilously stereotyped ‘lunatics’ — as if the past decade or so spent addressing stigmas and stereotypes around mental health never happened. They’re even labelled ‘The Loonies’ for chrissakes. For the record, they’re a bunch of troubled army vets under assessment following their time in the field.
The men’s unstable conditions give Black an excuse to have them make misjudged remarks such as “It’s like an alien Whoopi Goldberg”, and strange quips like: “F— me in the face with an aardvark”. Now we’ve started, there’s also this gem of an exchange: “It’s been a long time since I held a gun in my hand,” comes the first remark, to which the response is: “What’s it feel like?” Answer: “A gun”. Not actually funny and just not a convo that would happen, especially in this context. And what about this beauty? “’Getting the f— out of here’ is my middle name,” says Munn’s character. “I thought Gaylord was bad,” comes the response (FYI: earlier, Gaylord is revealed to be one of the Loonies’ middle names).
Self-aware and intent on sending itself up as it also fondly mocks the original, The Predator is nothing if not bold in its approach but leaves you wide-eyed with how far wide of the mark it is in terms of tone as well as plot and characterization. There’s a joke about how ‘Predator’ isn’t an accurate name for the creature which sits uncomfortably – as does the film’s exaggerated, predictable, groan-inducing wink to the 1987 original with the line: “Get to the choppas.” I mean, seriously.
Another major blunder is in the portrayal of Aspergers. Jacob Tremblay’s young character does little to dispel commonly held beliefs around the condition – and you’ll come away feeling weird about the way the film deals with it. The plot winds up revolving around the fact that he has the condition, playing on the real-life theory that Aspergers is the next stage in human evolution. This could be interesting to explore in another film but here it feels insensitively crowbarred in.
Black also falls into the trap of trying to make the threat bigger – literally. Not only does he make the alien itself taller and less vulnerable via its experiments with genetic engineering, but he also introduces Predator dogs. Big mistake. Let’s talk those dogs. Not particularly effective, they are easy to tame – once one takes to Olivia Munn, it’s prepared to help her out of any fix, even vomiting up a grenade for her to use at exactly the right moment. Gotta love a loyal hound.
And as for the newfangled Predator, there are questions around why as a race (some of them) are so intent on mining DNA to make themselves the most deadly beings in the galaxy. Perhaps their own world is under threat? Is it simply a case of survival of the fittest? Whatever, they were already pretty deadly when it comes to humans facing off against them, so why would we care if they’re upgrading themselves? And we don’t. Whether you came up against Predator mark 1 or the Predator version of the T-1000, most of us would end up a bloody pulp regardless. A taller Predator does not a more frightening foe make.
But that’s not the film’s biggest problem – that comes in the form of the ending and the motives of the first Predator we see in the film. We won’t spill the details here for fear of spoiling the film, but we will call this little matter out as raising several questions we’re not even sure we’re bothered about finding out the answers to.
So What About Good Things?
There are some aren’t there? Well, yes – Olivia Munn is charismatic, standing out in a fairly decent role for a woman in a Hollywood sausage-fest. And you do find yourself looking forward to Sterling K. Brown’s awful alien tech expert Traeger’s inevitable grisly demise, he’s been such a prick the entire time, affecting the most irritating punch-me-in-the-face-if-you-dare laugh you’ll hear all year.
And then there’s the alien tech, which looks very groovy indeed. It’s definitely come on leaps and bounds since 1987. Those space aliens have been busy developing their comms, weapons and defence mechanisms to a very advanced level, bringing the wow factor to Predator technology once again.
Is The Predator Good?
If you’re a fan of the franchise – or even just the first film — you’ll go into The Predator excited and hopeful. But despite Shane Black at the helm — perhaps even because of — the film is over-ambitious, moving a long way away from what made the Arnie actioner so successful in the first place. While Shane Black is clearly keen to recapture the mood of the original, and transplant it into a bigger and bolder story, everything feels off – as if it’s been put through the teleportation machine in The Fly and come out the other side amalgamated and mashed up. It’s essentially Brundlefly, if you will. Only Olivia Munn really emerges intact – with a refreshingly strong and engaging woman character who’s probably Black’s biggest, and not insignificant, success here.
The Predator hits screens in the UK on September 12, Australia on September 13 and the US on September 14.