REVIEW: The Predator (2018)

1987’s Predator is pretty much a stone-cold classic. Taking the basic formula of something like Alien, putting it in the jungle and giving it a very macho spin with a lot of testosterone-filled attitude, tons of memorable one-liners and quite a lot of tension and suspense, something which director John McTiernan put to great use in his follow-up Die Hard, and it also helped cement to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s popularity during the 1980s.

However, both men jumped ship after that film and the sequels have been kind of a mixed bag. Not bad by any means, and definitely entertaining, but not quite a patch on the original. Granted, I haven’t watched these movies in a while, so I guess I’ll have to sit down some evening and re-watch them to see if they hold up.

But that leads us onto the latest entry in the series: The Predator, helmed by Shane Black, who actually appeared in the original Predator in the role of Hawkins, but he’s mostly known for his writing on films like Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Monster Squad and The Last Boy Scouts. More recently, he’s branched out into directing movies like Iron Man 3 and The Nice Guys.

Black is a very talented filmmaker and I really like a lot of his work. He’s very good when it comes to writing sharp, witty and quotable dialogue. He’s got a very playful sense of humour and he’s very much a relic of that particular era of 80s and 90s action movie cinema. So, when I heard that he had signed on to direct a new Predator movie, I was really looking forward to seeing what he would bring to the franchise.

But as much as I was looking forward to it, I was extremely disappointed by the end result. It’s not all bad. In fact, there’s actually quite a bit I do like about the movie. For one, it’s a much more tongue-in-cheek entry to the franchise. Even by Shane Black's standards, it’s got quite a lot of humour in it to the point that it almost borders on parody. And I fully understand if that doesn’t work for some people, but I’m personally OK with it.

It’s not like the Predator franchise hasn’t been silly and over-the-top before, and to see a film in the series that kind of embraces it isn’t inherently a bad idea. The execution isn’t quite what it could’ve been (a problem that we’ll get into later in the review), but it seems like Black is going in the right direction at first.

And Black still hasn’t exactly lost his touch when it comes to dialogue either. There are still quite a few lines in there that are quite funny, even if they are arguably in bad taste and a tad politically incorrect. It’s not something that necessarily bothered me, but I can kind of understand if people take issue with it.

Black’s style of humour isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea. However, his style of humour can get really wacky at points. There’s some really odd moments of humour that did earn quite a few laughs from me, but at the same time they’re so cartoonish and over-the-top that they do feel really out of place, especially one gag involving the Predator giving a soldier a thumbs-up using a severed arm while it’s in the middle of killing a bunch of soldiers. Admittedly, this bit had me in hysterics, but it’s far more suited to something like Deadpool or Kingsman than Predator.

Another thing that does work in the movie’s favour is the cast. It really feels like Black is trying to create a similar vibe to Guardians of the Galaxy or Suicide Squad, where it’s about this band of misfits coming together to try and tackle a deadly threat. These unlikely heroes, these misfit soldiers, they’re all quite quirky. They’re all quite eccentric. They constantly go around joking and really annoying the hell out of anyone who comes across them with their unusual habits. But they all have very tragic backstories and they’re kind of using their humour and their quickness to try and mask that.

The actors deliver Black’s dialogue quite well and they can sell a joke and a one-liner quite effectively, and I think it also helps that the cast all have very good chemistry with each other. If Black was trying to recreate the team dynamic in the first Predator, he did succeed to a certain extent.

The film has all the ingredients to make something really good, and all the pieces are in place. But it just doesn’t come together very well. The script is really unfocused, especially on a plot level. It’s got a lot of pretty cool and interesting ideas, but they all feel very underdeveloped and half-baked. There are a lot of plotlines fighting for attention in this film, and it doesn’t have any focus whatsoever. I already mentioned the whole “misfits fighting a deadly threat” concept, but even it doesn’t really come together that satisfactorily. I think the only reason it kind of works is because of the dialogue and the acting.

The group of soldiers are all ostensibly the same character, and it’s very hard to tell them apart at points. When compared to the first movie, and even the other sequels, they all had very memorable characters, whereas here the only reason you might remember them is because of who’s playing them.

And the two leads are massively under-characterised and surprisingly bland. Boyd Holbrook tries very hard to make his character work, but he’s just very stock and unremarkable. But at least Holbrook gets to deliver some good one-liners and dialogue, whereas Olivia Munn is really given the short end of the stick.

She’s supposed to be this biologist who doesn’t really get along with others. But you wouldn’t know that from watching the film. She has no personality at all, aside from being a tad snarky. She’s randomly introduced about ten minutes in and is just plucked into the story for no discernible reason. And like Holbrook, you can tell Munn is really trying to make her character work and I think she is quite good in this film, but she’s constantly let down by the script and how she’s just kind of tagging along. She’s constantly side-lined for much of the movie. She honestly had more to do in X-Men: Apocalypse than she does here.

Easily one of the film’s biggest misnomers is with regards to McKenna’s autistic son Rory. Fair play to Jacob Tremblay; as with the other actors, I think he does a very good job in the film. I have no issue with his performance. It’s just that he’s constantly let down by clumsy writing. There are a few scenes early on where they do portray this character fairly realistically, particularly how he can’t stand loud noises, but as the film progresses it becomes downright absurd.

The film’s portrayal of autism, in general, is laughable. The film portrays autism as if it was some kind of superpower or it was some kind of mystical sixth sense. It even goes as far as to say that autism is the next step in human evolution. It’s just filled with those tired Hollywood clichés and stereotypes that it almost borders on being offensive, and it’s just so eye-rollingly stupid and ill-conceived from the ground up.

But by far and away, the worst thing about The Predator is its editing. The editing in this film is absolutely awful. Not just the action, which is already cut to the point of incomprehensibility, but the film in general is just edited terrible. Scenes often just run into each other. Some scenes are extremely choppy. And it feels like it’s had numerous scenes that have been either cut out or condensed to shorten the running time. The film looks like it’s been hacked to within an inch of its life. I don’t think I’ve seen a film this poorly edited since The Snowman.

And like I said, the action is really sloppily put together at points together too. It’s shocking considering Black is usually quite good at staging action. There are just so many cuts and, more often than not, it’s impossible to make out what’s actually happening most of the time.

It’s been well-documented that the film went through quite a troubled production and there have been more than a few reports that the film had some pretty extensive reshoots, especially in the film’s third act. I normally don’t mention things like that unless I think it affects the overall quality of the film, but in this case it really does affect the quality of the final film, because it would go a long way in explaining why the film is as messy as it is.

It looks like the studio took over, re-shot and re-edited this movie to hell and back. I’m not sure if Black’s original vision was going to be all that good to begin with, but it seems like Fox did not help matters either. It looks like they just completely gutted this movie to bits to try and fix it, but only ended up breaking it even more.

This film is a real disappointment because the film starts out so promisingly. And between ideas that are either underdeveloped or deeply ill-conceived, inconsistent tone, a lack of tension and genuine horror as well as its awful editing, this film does not work. It’s not exactly the most abysmal movie I’ve ever seen, and I wouldn’t say it’s as bad as the AVP movies. OK, AVPR is the only truly awful one. AVP is fine, I suppose. But this is a real mess regardless.

The Predator aims to breathe new life into the franchise, but only ends up making it seem more tired than ever. And with this latest entry, the Predator franchise now officially has its own Alien: Resurrection.

I wanted to like this movie. I really did. Like I said, I love Shane Black’s work and I love The Predator as a whole. But I would honestly recommend watching any of the other Predator films over this.

Written by Danny Quinn

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