In Shane Black’s 2018 spin on The Predator, its titular tribal-esque hunters have visited Earth a number of times (with both the initial entry and its 1992 sequel getting specifically name-dropped). During what at first appears to be another contact with the human race, mercenary sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) narrowly avoids the Predator ship crashing down in Mexico. After scavenging the remains, he decides to ship the amazing weaponry and technology he finds back home to his ex-wife (Yvonne Strahovski) and son (Jacob Tremblay) and out of the grasp of the US government and its main stooge, Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown).
McKenna finds himself in a secure debriefing, and then on a bus headed to group therapy with a number of other soldiers who have faced traumatic experiences (Trevante Rhodes, Keegan Michael-Key, Thomas Jane etc), while Traeger enlists the help of biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to research the nature of the Predator itself, which Traeger has taken into custody. But then the Predator breaks loose, and he won’t stop until he gets back what is his.
There’s more than one Predator in The Predator, and the handoff of the narrative from one to the next is almost like a clean dividing line for the film’s two halves: a first half that is mostly sharp, quick, gory, full of the hunt, and everything you’d want from a movie like this. The second half of the film is heralded by the motivations of a sort of Predator 2.0 that we’ve seen in the previews. Predator 1.0 uses interesting effects, is perhaps less menacing on its face but really embodies the kind of cheesy horror action you’d expect, much like the first half of the movie. Predator 2.0 is a CGI bland sort of nothing, theoretically scarier because it’s taller, and accompanying a second half of the movie that is full of bizarre and cringe-inducing tropes (think along the line of “humans only use 10% of their brains!” but worse) and a final act that is so massacred in the cutting room floor, my partner literally had to ask me whether a particular character had died because she’d missed it in a blink.
As far as performances go, Brown is the obvious winner standout of the film. He knows what kind of movie he’s in and he acts the part, basically serving as the star of any scene he’s in. Munn also does a solid enough work here and imbues her performance with both physical comedy and good comedic timing in a way that plays with the “strong female action hero” type. Holbrook’s performance has a really strange echo of “Ryan Gosling” that I just couldn’t shake. I don’t know if Holbrook has always been doing this kind of shtick, but it never became apparent to me until this very moment. He’s serviceable, but only just. The rest of the cast is fine – if strikingly underwritten, and I think wasting the excellent Rhodes is one of the biggest crimes Black commits here – but they’re all just cannon-fodder anyway and you’re just waiting for when the gore is going to start flying. It’s a Predator movie after all.
The problems in this film rest instead on the editing and/or script as well as Black’s direction, which runs hot and cold. I don’t know exactly what happened to this movie, but it feels like somewhere between the pages of the script and the product that’s on screen, some major adjustments to the third act completely took it off track. And no, it’s likely not as simple as the scene that was cut because it featured a registered sex offender: it feels like a lot more was jumbled here and something was thrown together bizarrely in the editing bay, as if perhaps Black didn’t even cut the final third of his own film. As a result, the moment that should be the most thrilling (a Predator hunting humans in the jungle! How do you mess that up?) is easily the worst feature of the film. It’s such an unbelievable whiff, following on two acts that are very much in the Black mold of filmmaking – not quite as sharp as usual, but with enough satirical edge that you can tell who is behind the camera.
It’s hard to judge a movie like that one because it really does feel like two very disparate chapters of the same story. You can see in the bones of this thing that there could be a solid, even subversive, effort, but what we got simply isn’t it. The rollercoaster of a fun, nostalgic and particular kind of action film is definitely on display for a while, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll get it. But you’ll pay the price later.