The Predator

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It’s been over 30 years since the Predator first stomped onto our screens, yet the inter-galactic hunter hasn’t quite had the success of his contemporaries. Even though the Predators are as instantly recognisable as Alien, and effortlessly cooler, they’ve never had an easy journey to the big screen. The buzz for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director Shane Black’s The Predator has been underlined by fan’s quiet hopes of a franchise invigorating reboot. But did it work?

Co-written with 80’s genre icon, Frank Dekker (Night of the Creeps) The Predator is a self-aware sci-fi caper. Fusing the urban and jungle locations of the first two films, Black sets his predator against a group of PTSD-stricken testosterone-fuelled military types, led by Boyd Holbrook. The Logan star takes centre stage but doesn’t really win us over, especially when folks like Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), Thomas Jane (The Mist) and Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele) are standing right next to him. Whatever fuck-ups the film has, group dynamic and general patter are not amongst them so comedy comes easily. Especially from Jane and Key who have the kind of casual camaraderie most filmmakers dream of. Even then many cast members don’t get a chance to show off; Alfie Allen (Pandemic) and Augusto Aguilera in particular. Olivia Munn (Deliver Us From Evil) gets zero character work but by the finale she’s proven herself a pretty badass fighter who slots in effortlessly with the crew. Stirling K. Brown follows similar suit: he’s cool but there’s little character and drive.

Even with Munn, it’s a weirdly old school set-up considering how fresh other parts feel. Basically it feels a bit too retro watching a group of “bros” lark around but Black actually gets away with it. That trademark dialogue which has been a keystone in Black’s biggest hits serves him well in making a band of fairly outdated archetypes watchable in 2018. There’s also a lot of sweet touches which help separate this band of soldiers from the toxic masculinity usually flaunted in army-types.

In typical Black fashion, The Predator plays out like a showcase of cool shit you’ve always wanted to see in a Predator movie. Both Black and co-writer Dekker have a knack for thinking outside the box, exploring nifty concepts, and The Predator is no different. There’s a lot of cool, savvy, mythos break-downs which slyly expand the horizons of this relatively small universe and its tech. Harkening back to Dekker’s Monster Squad, a young boy dons the Predator’s mask for Halloween trick or treating, resulting in some explosive fun. Numerous characters debate the validity of calling the alien a “predator” when it’s more of a “hunt for sport” kinda guy. Even something as simple as an invisible Predator being slowly revealed by a spattering of gore feels like a sharp and fresh way to play with the trademarks of the character and give the audience plenty ‘oooo’ moments.

Not to mention the nifty concept Black has conjured to help bind the films together and cement them as an actual franchise, as opposed to the near-anthology style series we’ve had so far. Increased Predator visits to Earth are explained in a loose but surprisingly intriguing way. No spoilers but it’s the sort of simple straightforward thinking which helps tie things together and provide a launch pad for future entries. The story is aware of what’s come before, which is great, but Black and Dekker wrestle awkwardly with what a Predator Sequel should be right up to the credits. As a franchise Predator has never pinned down the formula which would keep audiences coming back but Black has made the best attempt yet. There’s a direction for future entries now, but the hodge-podge approach to editing really hurts the film’s overall enjoyability.

Black knows what audience’s have seen and fires from beat to beat without spoon feeding. Which just highlights those stunted technical moments. The editing isn’t woeful, it’s just careless. From the opening we’re forced to ignore odd timing, spontaneous appearances, and badly timed action beats. Leaps in logic are fine but The Predator racks up a staggering number of ‘wait…what?’ moments which interrupt the enjoyably swift pace. Dodgy cutting also botches some of those superb action sequences, slowing them down and killing the energy.

Step away from technicality and there’s plenty to love. The Predator has never looked this good and FX studio Amalgamated Dynamics deserves a shit-tonne of praise. The gore is off the chart too, with the predator unceremoniously carving its way through swathes of ill-prepped paramilitary types in joyous displays of carnage. It’s safe to say that a Predator film has never been this brutal, and some new creatures help make it so. The super predator is an absolute beast of a creation, throwing a pretty terrifying curve-ball through a film which could have worn thin without a wild card. Bigger isn’t always better but it sure as shit is here.

So to recap: it’s a hardcore blast marred by sloppy editing and a dull lead. Frank and Dekker’s self-awareness and fanboy love for the franchise helps make The Predator the freshest, nastiest, and most explosive entry since the first. Fingers crossed for a sequel.

4/5

Scott Clark

Dir. Shane Black

Stars. Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Sterling K. Brown, Alfie Allen

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