The Predator review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Look, Shane Black gets it. There’s very little direction that the Predator franchise can go without going down in a flaming heap of exhausted ideas. Taking it too seriously would be a bad idea; a feeble attempt to relive the glory days with many asking why they wouldn’t just rewatch the original. Turning it into a PG-13 action is just as bad of an idea; watering down all the elements to be a passable and forgettable blockbuster, taking a meager amount of money and running. And so Black takes the road that may not be the highest, but certainly the most winding, weird, and fun. The result is a messy one, but it may be as good a Predator retread as we’ll ever see.
Black gets down to business quick. In mere seconds, we’ve already got our Predator crashlanding on Earth. A few minutes later, our hero of a mercenary sniper (Boyd Holbrook) is already doing battle with the camouflaging alien from another galaxy. The next thing you know he’s hiding Predator armor in a post office box and swallowing a cloak-tech sphere so the government doesn’t find it on him. Sounds pretty dumb, but you’re just going to have to go along with it if you don’t want the film to be lost in exposition. This frantic and often jokey writing keeps the picture moving through the lesser scenes, such as the quintessential alien dissection scene that is usually a bore of explanations. It’s more fun to listen to Olivia Munn as the lead Predator expert questioning why to call it the predator when it doesn’t hunt to survive.
Hardly any of this story is taken without a wink and for good reason. The secret plan of the visiting Predators revealed in the second act is nothing special. In fact, it’s pretty damn boring and convoluted as any sequel spiraling out of ideas for such a simple concept. And so Black turns the routine into the silly. Yes, we will get a team of mercenaries that go on the offensive against the terror from outer space. And they’re all played up for laughs, from the cackling Keegan-Michael Key to the Tourette’s Syndrome riddled Thomas Jane, spouting vulgarities which may or may not be intentional. And just in case there weren’t enough plots spiraling this action-horror hybrid out of control, there’s the addition of McKeena’s kid played by Jacob Tremblay with a case of Asperger’s Syndrome. And if you thought the use of autism in The Accountant was absurd, just wait until you see this condition used for the most insane of plot twists so otherworldly nutty I doubt you’d believe me if I told you.
This gung-ho direction sometimes works. It at least meshes well enough with the over-the-top gore that pushes the blood and guts to ludicrous extremes, working hard to earn that R rating. Guts are spilled, holes are made in stomachs, and the red is spilled by the gallons. There are plenty of moments to make one wince and laugh at the same time, as when the Predator rips open a human face and later impales another in the groin. Ouch. It’s also somewhat satisfying to watch McKenna’s kid wearing the oversized Predator helmet that can attack anybody who attacks him. There’s also a brilliant lampoon about how McKenna tells his son the difference between a soldier and a killer is that a soldier doesn’t enjoy killing. It’s a lie; he’s having a blast and his son knows it.
The Predator is a mess but in its chaos is some fun stuff. As it goes on, the need for silliness turns the picture dumb. I mean, really dumb. But it’s very clear that Black is winking at us all along the way, letting us know never to take this story to seriously, as though he’s shooting for a more campy Predator knock-off than a genuine Predator movie. It’s homage film more than anything but a tribute in the same vein of a comical satire. And from that angle, The Predator is more enjoyable amid the other forgettable retreads of 1980s properties.