When it was announced that Shane Black would bring the Predator franchise back from the dead, it didn’t face nearly the same level of hype or skepticism as the return of the Alien series. The Predator has no masterful mythology to screw up. Even caring about that stuff at all was a step forward. All Black had to do was deliver an entertaining romp, and dammit he delivered. Obviously. That’s what he does.
In weird way, the Predator became an iconic movie monster by almost by accident. The initial Schwarzenegger-starring 1987 feature was supposed to be a B-movie at best before John McTiernan became one of the great action directors halfway through production. The monster was supposed to be a green rubber lizard played by Jean-Claude Van Damme until McTiernan unpacked the costume in the jungle and realized that it would be laughed off screen, leading to Stan Winston getting hired for a last minute redesign that resulted in one of his finest creations. The sequels were all cranked-out commercial products that were better than necessary without ever topping the original (except for AVP 2, of course; fuck that movie).
Black’s take on The Predator has a strong throwback element. That’s no huge surprise. The franchise still feels stuck somewhere in the late ’80s and Shane Black is himself a relic of dumb-dumb ’80s entertainment. That’s fine. We could use a little more bubblegum in the blockbuster world these days, and there’s nothing wrong with giving $100+ million to a guy who helped define the ’80s action boom to revive one of the most enduring franchises from that boom. Don’t let the small town setting and fairly contained cast fool you. This is the largest scale Predator movie that’s been produced to date and yet Black still made sure that it earned an R-rating with as much blood and salty language as he can cram in between the explosions. If you enjoy the Predator as a movie monster and can’t have fun with this movie, ring up a hearse because you’re probably dead (at least on the inside).
The movie doesn’t have much of a plot, just enough to combine the right number of characters to amass a decent body count. Boyd Holbrook plays an army super sniper who leads a gang of PSTD-suffering criminal soldiers. Holdbrook is obviously no Schwarzenegger, but he does the stoic action lead thing well enough. He also has a damn fine cast of wisecracking numbskulls around him to make up for it, from Keegan-Michael Key (who speaks exclusively in one-liners) to a Thomas Jane with Tourettes, and Trevante Rhodes from Moonlight on chain-smoking badass duties. Olivia Munn does a wisecracking scientist routine rather well and Jacob Tremblay throws an autistic kid into the mix as Holdbrook’s offspring. None of the characters have much depth, but there throw plenty of one-liners around and most of them blow up real good when the Predator gets nasty.
There are two Predators (and two Predator dogs) in this flick with some fun additions to the mythology via the script by Black and his former Monster Squad partner Fred Dekker. The duo clearly love this world, and fill the film with fan service winks, nudges, and callbacks without getting in the way of the relentlessly paced assault on the senses. The movie opens with a spaceship chase and barely lets up for a minute after that. The gore, explosions, effects, shocks, and zingers never stop coming. At times the “move forward at all costs” editing approach leads to some clunky storytelling and confusing gaps. (Lord knows how many reshoots were needed, but it’s safe to say plenty.) There’s also an irritating sequel-baiting ending and occasionally a little too much CGI for a throwback genre romp. Thankfully, the problems with the project are all fairly a minor and the sort of thing expected out of any Hollywood product of this scale, for better or worse.
Shane Black’s The Predator ain’t art and it won’t change the world, but damn is it ever a good time. Everyone is having fun from Black right on down to the bottom of the call sheet. This is the type of stupid movie by smart people that a cosplay icon like the Predator deserves. Sometimes paycheck projects aren’t bad as long as everyone involved knows what they’re doing and wants to serve up the finest heaping of buttery popcorn they can. This is one of those.