“Predator” is an odd relic of pop culture when you really try to break down the its significance and trajectory as a franchise. While the original movie barely scraped by on its machismo to the point of satire atmosphere carried on the back of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime and a premise taken so far into its logical extreme that it wraps back around the childish B-movie cheese of its idea on paper to become legitimately cool, it’s also a franchise that strictly speaking started on a B-movie and has never received a particularly strong follow up.
Each of the sequels have highs and lows, most of which hover around the general area of being outright bad but even at its most defensible, this is a series that has repeatedly fallen apart trying far too hard to get its concept to be taken seriously in a grim, visceral, self-serious and mythology building manner that has never managed to really materialize a successful base for more traditional franchise expansion.
Perhaps it’s fitting then, that director and actor from the original 1987 “Predator” film, Shane Black, manages to come the absolute closest to giving the film a worthy follow up by ostensibly making a glorified action comedy B-movie that explicitly kicks perception of a “Predator” movie off of its embarrassingly self aggrandizing pedestal. “The Predator” follows a group of soldiers and scientists dragged into a spat between two of the titular alien beings after one of the soldiers seizing its equipment from the crash site of one of its ships ignites a race to unite the equipment and survive the ongoing hunt while discovering exactly what motivation the race may have for continuously visiting the planet for hunting.
Marketing for the film has played right into the hand of that self serious perception by attempting to sell the audience on a grim and atmospheric horror action film where the conclusion would most likely result in everybody involved losing by sheer trauma of the experience even if they survived. They should be ashamed of themselves and you should not listen to a single line of it. As I mentioned, “The Predator” is a genuinely fun, silly, occasionally self aware and borderline satirical sci-fi B-movie that clearly has a sincere reverence for a more campy style of alien invasion flick that died out almost two and a half decades ago.
In willing to have a laugh at its own absurdity, the tone becomes more palatable and the film ironically becomes a more noticeably worthy successor to the original film in reveling in that sense of style than pretty much anything that’s spawned from it.
While the void of Schwarzenegger’s presence is never quite filled by any specific individual, Boyd Holbrook proves to be adept enough at action in his own right and his chemistry with his cast mates, including Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, and Sterling K. Brown all carry that organically natural yet unpredictably endearing pop that Shane Black is famous for. Whether they’re in the field trying to track the Predator down or taking pot shots at one another to fish for excellent dramatic and humorous reactions, the journey is made entertaining along the way by a growing sense of care for characters that are treated more as people first than the monster fodder you anticipate them becoming.
Between the strong work put in by the cast going above and beyond to give excellent performances, takes on the Predator that are still genuinely terrifying but more in a “I can’t believe this thing exists” sort of manner as opposed to the typical “what if you were in the scenario” approach and a script so unabashedly playful that it actually establishes the Predator by name in universe as the Predator, the genuinely fun times to be had with this mismarketed flick probably ranks among my biggest surprises of the year.
That’s not to say that the film is great by any means. If “The Predator” has a major prevailing problem, it’s that while it manages to be an significantly entertaining version of the sort of B-movie it aims to be, it tragically comes up just short of being a legitimately good version of that same movie. While Jacob Tremblay continues to be a shining paragon of talent that we wish all child actors could achieve as well as providing one of the funniest moments of the entire film involving him and a Predator mask, his involvement in the actually story leaves a lot to be desired and the third act climax drags out a touch to long only to get increasingly messy right up to a painful sequel baiting ending that sucks the residual charm of the film in the moment right out a mere 3 minutes before the credits.
All of this is inductive of a severely choppy editing problem that can make some of the more chaotic set pieces more nonsensically frantic than they need to be hurt the impact of some of the best jokes and more impactful moments. “The Predator” is riddled with far too many sloppy errors in storytelling to shine in the way that it had the very clear potential to that could have surreally made it the first legitimately great “Predator” movie.
Fortunately, the charm that makes its flaws all the more noticeable still outshine the movie’s problems to remind me of how commendable it should be for pursuing the outside of the box thinking that brought it together to begin with.
3 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.