One of the prevailing explanations for the deluge of drudgery that Hollywood has been unleashing is that modern audiences (young people) have no memory of the proven box-offices hits of the past, so there is very little downside for anyone seeking to reboot or relaunch a dormant franchise. Sure, you will alienate a certain segment of fandom, but it won’t do anything like generate a sadistic harassment campaign or inspire misguided online petitions, right?
Anyway, that’s probably not on topic for this relaunch of the world of Predator (1987). The films have their fans, of course, despite having done everything a franchise could do to shake them. I’ve always come down on the side of the xenomorph, but I also have a soft spot for Predator’s single-handed spine-ripping annihilation of militaristic overconfidence.
For those who worry about this sort of thing, director Shane Black (Iron Man 3) assures us that The Predator is “canon” and happens in the same timeline as the previous films, with a specific callback to Predators happening early in the first act. In this movie, a battle between two starcraft sends one plunging to Earth, where it crash-lands in the middle of a terrestrial combat zone. A Predator climbs from the craft and does what a Predator does best when surrounded by humans in lo-fi camouflage. But things don’t work out so well, and it is taken into custody King Kong style while sole surviving rogue mercenary Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) escapes with his life and a souvenir.
This sets off a plot that somehow manages to evoke some classic monster movie stuff as well as some sort of Spielbergian or Stranger Things weird adventure through suburbia. The influence of the cult television show is hard to miss, and the soundtrack’s John Williams–esque swells only serve to underscore the legacy of the “master of wonder.” These choices are not as bizarre as one might guess, for much of the film revolves around the inadvertent discovery and use of the Predator technology by McKenna’s son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay). We learn that Rory is somewhere on the autism spectrum, and his atypical neurology becomes an important factor as both Quinn and the government race to stop the Predator rampaging across aforementioned suburbia and the all-important surrounding woodlands. We all know the Predator action works best when there is plenty of flora and fauna to destroy and lurk amongst, right?
Quinn recruits the “Loonies,” a collection of veterans with various combat-related mental illnesses, to help him protect Rory and stop the Predator. These characters are really a highlight of the film, though I am sure their portrayals will prompt plenty of heated online discussion. Overall, their performances turn this project from the overamped machismo of Predator into a film with a much more entertaining vibe reminiscent of a good episode of The A-Team. For the most part it doesn’t get too silly, and the antics recall the action/comedy spirit of Shane Black’s legendary screenplay for Lethal Weapon (1987). It’s worth noting that the film was cowritten by the briefly reigning king of ’80s horror comedy, Fred Dekker (Monster Squad), so fans of the genre will certainly find something to enjoy in this horror-based science-fiction escapade.
There were plenty of weak points, to be sure, and the finale reaches toward sequels and a Marvel-style franchise that it hasn’t earned. The filmmakers also chose to create the creature using a mix of practical (costume) effects and CGI animation, and much of the blood spilled during the action scenes is clearly and sadly CGI as well. For a film as rooted in the heyday of ’80s physical effects filmmaking as this is, the digital blood splatter was very disappointing to see on the screen. This doesn’t help the low-budget aesthetic that permeates the whole film—that look is one callback to the ’80s that could’ve been left behind. There are plenty of great-looking films and shows out there with half the budget of this one. For better or worse, many of these don’t even require a trip to the theater. But despite its flaws, The Predator’s lasting impression is one of amusement.